RENEWED CALL FOR EXPANDED DNA DATABANK

Authorities, crime victim advocates say it would help solve, prevent crime

LEIGH HORNBECK STAFF WRITER
Section: Main,  Page: A3

Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012

QUEENSBURY -- Diana Deso was raped and murdered in 1987, but it was 18 years before police found her killer - and only with the help of DNA testing was there a conviction in the case, the Warren County Sheriff said Monday.


Sheriff Nathan "Bud" York joined other law enforcement officials and crime victim advocates at a news conference to call for solving and preventing crimes by expanding the state DNA databank.


Also participating were Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan and Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira, state Deputy for Public Safety Elizabeth Glazer and Glens Falls Police Chief William Valenza.


Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the expansion during his State of the State address. If the Legislature passes the measure, New York would be the first state to take DNA samples from everyone convicted of a misdemeanor or felony.


While the officials who spoke Monday were only the latest to call for expanding the databank, Robert Perry of the New York Civil Liberties Union said the potential for error and fraud is exponential, given the problems that already exist with the databank.


"There have been a number of developments that should give policy makers pause, including familial searching based on a partial matches; unauthorized use of DNA by local labs and rogue databanks that maintain samples from people who have not been charged with a crime," Perry said.


The governor said fairness is the standard, Perry added, "but the state forensics commission would need to be reconstituted to provide the needed oversight and regulation," he said.


The databank was last expanded in 2006, when certain misdemeanors were made DNA-eligible along with felonies. Hogan said that is not enough.


"DNA samples are taken from only 48 percent of convicted offenders. That's akin to a doctor saying, 'I have medicine that I know can cure an illness, but I can only use it with 48 percent of my patients,' " Hogan said.


York said the use of DNA also avoids the arrests of innocent people. In the Deso case, he said, he began looking at the evidence eight years after the woman's death, which led to a man whom police never arrested for the crime because a DNA sample proved he wasn't at the scene of the murder. But five years later, the database came up with a match, this time to a man who already was in prison for the 1989 rape of a 16-year-old girl. The inmate, Rae Kellar, confessed to Deso's rape and murder.


Under the governor's proposal, DNA-eligible crimes would be expanded to include all misdemeanors under the Penal Law (increasing from 36) and all felonies under other state laws.


Reach Leigh Hornbeck at 454-5352 or lhornbeck@timesunion.com.