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DNA Solves Crimes

DPS: DNA Legislation Continues Solving Crimes

AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) today announced that House Bill (HB) 1399 assisted in the closure of more than 250 unsolved criminal investigations during its first year of implementation. The law authorizes DNA samples collected from individuals charged with 24 qualifying felonies and compares the offender samples to existing crime scene DNA profiles in the nationwide Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database. The law, also known as the Krystal Jean Baker Act, went into effect on Sept. 1, 2019.

“The hard work of our crime lab employees and law enforcement officials is allowing us to make great strides in solving crimes faster, and in some cases, crimes that otherwise may never have been solved,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “Only a year after its passage, this law has become a valuable tool in getting criminals off our streets and bringing justice for victims and their families. We expect additional success as this process becomes an integral and vital part of the criminal justice landscape.”

Under HB 1399, it does not require law enforcement to wait for a conviction to gather a DNA sample. Upon a person’s arrest for a qualifying felony, a cheek swab is collected and sent to the DPS lab that they enter into CODIS. The statute was passed during the 86th Texas Legislative Session and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“The purpose of this legislation was to help law enforcement identify perpetrators in unsolved cases,” said State Rep. Reggie Smith. “I am pleased to see such success in the first year since the legislation was implemented. I believe this legislation will continue to bring perpetrators of violent crimes to justice and provide for a safer Texas.”

They named the law for Krystal Jean Baker, a 13-year-old Texas City girl abducted, sexually assaulted, and killed in 1996. Authorities collected DNA evidence at the time of her death, but with no arrests made. In 2010, officers arrested the perpetrator of Baker’s murder on an unrelated charge in Louisiana, and DNA taken at the time of his arrest linked him to Baker’s case. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to her murder in Chambers County.

The successes

  • Authorities arrested the 17-year-old cold case strangulation of a 21-year-old woman in Lubbock County after they arrested the suspect earlier this year on an unrelated charge. Investigators matched his DNA to the homicide. He is also considered a suspect in a second homicide in the Lubbock area from 2004.
  • A suspect arrested for an aggravated assault in 2019 in Tarrant County matched to murder from 1994, more than 25 years after the crime, the oldest case assisted so far as the result of HB 1399.
  • In three separate cases in Harris County, officials arrested suspects of murder, prostitution, and robbery charges. They tied the three suspects to a total of six different unsolved sexual assaults in the county.
  • Two separate suspects were arrested for sexual assault in Dallas County and connected to two 2018 out-of-state cases of sexual assault in New York and Arkansas.
  • A suspect in Bastrop County was arrested for assault and matched to nine vehicle crimes in South Carolina, which occurred during a four-day crime spree in 2012.
  • The ability to acquire the DNA profile at arrest allows law enforcement to more quickly leverage the DNA database’s investigative power, even if it does not result in an immediate match. They enter the offender’s DNA into the database, where they use it to match future offenses. HB 1399 collections have already produced two DNA matches that fit this scenario. In one case, authorities arrested a suspect in Dallas County for an aggravated assault in December 2019 and entered into the database. Even though there was no match at the time, they later tied evidence from a February 2020 sexual assault in Ector County to the suspect through CODIS.

Breaking down the numbers

While many qualifying offenders arrested since HB 1399 went into effect were already in the CODIS database for other crimes, there have been 16,215 DNA samples from new offenders that investigators collected, analyzed, and uploaded into the database for potential matches between Sept. 1, 2019, and Aug. 31, 2020.

The vast majority of HB 1399 offender-to-case matches (236) were from unsolved crimes in Texas. The remainder is related to criminal activity in South Carolina, New York, Arkansas, Idaho, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Top Five Qualifying Offenses at Arrest Involved in DNA match   Top Five Investigations Aided
Burglary 47   Sexual Assault 93
Assault 40   Burglary 38
Aggravated Assault 31   Robbery 20
Aggravated Robbery 31   Murder 10
Sexual Assault 21   Sexual Assault of a Child 9

Most of the investigations aided by HB 1399 (78%) involved crimes that occurred in the same county or a bordering county relative to where the offender was arrested, and 85% solved a different criminal offense than the qualifying crime they were arrested for.

The counties with the highest number of offender DNA samples that resulted in database matches in the first year were Harris (78), Dallas (47), Tarrant (20), Travis (18), and Fort Bend (11), while the top five counties where new case matches took place were Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Travis and Montgomery counties.