DNA Database Helping Solve More Crimes In South Dakota
Since the late 1980s, law enforcement have known the power DNA evidence holds in the courtroom and the role it plays in getting a conviction. But in the last few years, South Dakota authorities are learning that collecting and holding onto that evidence is just as valuable.
“We have fingerprints, firearms/tool marks, trace examinations and of course, biology and DNA which is the largest section of the laboratory.”
Forensic Scientist Eddie Aamold says DNA evidence has been extremely beneficial in solving crimes in South Dakota.
Aamold said, “Anything from property crime, burglaries to sexual assault and homicides.”
In October of last year, a 19-year-old Sioux Falls woman said she was knocked unconscious and raped in her garage after a family bonfire. Police got a warrant and took DNA from 31-year-old Jonathan Jerome Packard. The state crime lab in Pierre matched his DNA to the rape kit.
Aamold said, “Anything like blood, saliva, any type of biological fluid that may be from a crime scene.”
In late February, Packard was arrested for 2nd degree rape, a felony in South Dakota. Which also means his profile will go into the state’s DNA database.
“In 2008, we became an all arrestee state, which means that anyone in South Dakota that’s arrested of a felony or any juvenile that’s convicted of a felony must submit a sample, a DNA sample into our DNA database,” said Aamold.
Aamold says after the samples are taken, DNA profiles are established and stored on a database known as CODIS.
Aamold said, “It’s a series of numbers basically that distinguishes a particular DNA profile.”
The scientists can then determine if it matches a profile already in the system.
“Sometimes we’ll get a case, an unsolved burglary case, where we’ll match to an individual and we’ll be able to identify that that individual is sort of escalating as well, committing crimes starting with property crimes and escalating to more violent crimes,” Aamold said.
According to the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office, 4,839 samples were entered into CODIS last year; 237 profiles came from crime scene evidence. More than 56,000 profiles have been entered since the system was established in the state in 2003.
Aamold said, “We average approximately 1 or 2 CODIS hits a week now because the database has gotten so large, so it really gives us a, you know, a really beneficial tool we can use in law enforcement to establish a link in cases that may have otherwise have gone unsolved.”
Last year, there were 135 CODIS hits, leading to several burglary and rape convictions.
The DNA profiles collected in South Dakota are also entered into the FBI’s database, which has around 14 million profiles. That means those profiles can also be matched to profiles in other states.
However, all this takes time. Recently the state crime lab was experiencing a backlog, especially when it came to analyzing rape kits.
Aamold said, “We weren’t to the point where other states were seeing that seeing that six month turnaround time; we weren’t quite to that point, but we were significantly backlogged enough to the point where we knew we needed to do something.”
The state crime lab has since added better resources, such as a new genetic analyzer that can run 8 to 16 samples at a time instead of just one. While it takes a year to train her, another forensic scientist has been added to the lab as well.
“We always try to keep that 30 to 45 (day) turnaround time and sometimes that seems like a lot, but in the forensic world, scientific world, that’s a really good benchmark for us to set,” said Aamold.
If that’s not enough, Aamold says they can fast track evidence when needed.
“We’re also aware of certain circumstances where we may have someone out there that is an immediate threat to the community where we need to have someone in here to do this immediately, in which case you know we may be here overnight trying to be able to obtain this DNA profile and try to get it searched within 24 hours if we have to,” Aamold said.
The South Dakota Legislature has also taken steps to ensure rape kits are analyzed in a more timely fashion. A bill signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard earlier this year requires law enforcement to give rape kits to the Attorney General’s Office within 14 days of receiving evidence. The crime lab then has 90 days to complete their analysis.