Hundreds of DNA tests backlogged at Metro’s forensic lab

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — All you need is the top of a pin of blood, and within a few hours, Metro Police will have your DNA information. That’s how advanced investigators have become when fighting crime.

But it also has a downfall.

Metro’s forensic lab is one of two in the state. It works on a variety of cases, from homicides to property crimes — a task that sometimes is not done fast enough for the victims.

“It could be clothing, blankets, guns, blood, saliva, seminal fluids,” said Kimberly Murga, director of lab services for Metro.

The work done with the state-of-the-art technology is mindblowing.

“We used to obtain about 16% from DNA from guns,” shared Murga. “Currently, with that technology, we are able to get over 50% success from guns.”

For her and her team, the work is non-stop.

“In the past 12 months, we received over 2,700 total requests for DNA and completed over 2,800 analysis in the past year,” Murga said. “Currently, we have a backlog of about 1,700 forensic lab requests specific to DNA.”

Among those requests is the Tamika Williams case. The 41-year-old was found February in an apartment near Downtown Las Vegas. She was strangled.

Daniele Staple, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center, says one of the hardest things is accepting there is little control anyone has on these situations.

“Often, it is really challenging for parents,” said Staple. We offer support for partners and siblings. This is an issue, and it affects the individual’s whole support system.”

DNA from Williams’ hands lead to the arrest of 23-year-old Shaolin Duncan.

Shaolin Duncan

While some families get justice, Staple says others do not, especially with a data system stressed with multiple investigations.

“It’s not just a local thing. We have people, for example, that were assaulted here as guests in our area and have never lived here,” said Staple, “or maybe they have a DNA kit when the incident happened at the time but have moved away.”

With all the work the lab does, there is a need to keep that part of crime fighting in action. Money will help. In 2017, the approval of AB97 allocated a one-time fund of $2.3 million to mandate kits be submitted to the forensic lab for analysis within 30 days and completely within 120 days.

“Those funds are going to expire on June of this year,” Murga said. “One of the challenges we are looking at is how do we bridge that gap.”

It’s a gap she says will reduce staff and slow down the process — a concern for any victim waiting for justice.

This summer, the lab will get a new tool, which promises to provide investigators with better leads and answers to some cold case murders and current investigations.

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