A Forensic Failure 

Budget Cuts Leave Hair and Semen Untested

To the many services that have fallen victim to budget cuts, add the state police forensics division. Eighty-five state forensics experts have already received their layoff notices, effective February 1. This will reduce the state forensics department by 65 percent. If the layoff notices are not rescinded, Portland's crime lab--the largest in Oregon--will lose two of the state's three firearms experts, six of eight drug chemists and eight of eleven crime lab analysts. Without specialists to process evidence such as bullet casings or drug tests, experts forecast that only very serious offenders will be held in custody.

"This could be a major clog for the judicial system if we don't have enough personnel to work the evidence," said Randy Wampler, a supervisor for the forensics division.

State forensics experts have been catching offenders by matching biological evidence gathered at crime scenes--like blood, semen and hair--and cross-checking them against a statewide database storing DNA samples from anyone convicted of a felony. Since its enactment in 1991, the DNA database has had more than 200 matches resulting in convictions.

While some states have dubbed such databases as an ultimate invasion of privacy, it's becoming impossible to ignore the information's crime-fighting capabilities. Earlier this month, for example, Florida's felon database may have solved a murder mystery haunting Seattle for a decade. A private investigation firm in Hollywood, Florida, linked DNA from Jesus Mezquia to the 1993 killing of Seattle punk rock singer Mia Zapata. A DNA sample collected from her body matched Mezquia's DNA stored in the Florida felon database.

Earlier this year, federal grant money for the Oregon forensics team ran out. Even without the pending layoffs, forensics are backed up for several months with unprocessed DNA.

"With so many from the statewide forensics department laid off, everything will pretty much grind to a halt. Just the very top priority of cases will be worked," Wampler said, specifically citing the highly visible Miranda Pond/Ashley Gaddis double murder case.

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