Heller targets DNA backlog

RENO — Spurred by the search for a serial rapist who killed a 19-year-old Reno woman, Rep. Dean Heller urged Congress on Thursday to fully fund a Justice Department program aimed at processing a backlog of tens of thousands of DNA samples nationwide.

“Nevada, like many other states, has thousands of cases that need DNA evidence to be processed to solve crimes and prosecute criminals,” said Heller, R-Nev., in a prepared statement.

The backlog has drawn attention in Reno, where the murder of Brianna Denison has been tied by DNA evidence to sexually motivated attacks on at least two other women in recent months.

Denison’s body was found in a field Feb. 15 with the DNA of her killer, but law enforcement agencies have no identity to go with the DNA sample.

When detectives learned that about 3,000 DNA samples from convicted offenders in Washoe County alone were waiting to be tested and entered into a national and state database, local citizens, business leaders and politicians contributed $150,000 to help address the backlog locally.

That backlog is due in part to the fact that the Legislature passed a law last year requiring DNA samples to be taken from convicts but provided no money to process them.

Heller urged his colleagues in a letter Thursday to provide the $151 million needed to fully fund a Justice Department program that awards grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to carry out DNA analysis, increase laboratory capacity and collect samples from violent offenders as required by law.

In past years, the program has been provided less than that full level — $147 million in the current fiscal year, $112 million the year before and $108 million the year before that, an aide said.

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