Vermont authorities are cracking more cases than ever thanks to DNA science. Four years ago Vermont lawmakers finally enacted laws that expanded the use of DNA science to solve crimes. Now DNA is cracking cases every day, including some crimes that went unsolved for decades.
DNA science took center stage two weeks ago when Theodore Caron was charged with the 1982 rape and murder of Pamela Brown in Barre.
One other widely publicized case was the conviction of Howard Godfrey for the murder of Patty Scoville in Stowe 18 years after the crime.
Over the last 3 years, DNA has solved several other cold case murders in Vermont and other crimes.
"So in 2008 we sent 21 match reports where an unsolved case has matched a convicted felon," said Dr. Peg Schwartz of the Vt. Crime Lab.
Schwartz oversees the state crime lab's DNA operations. She says the 21 DNA matches last year included 13 burglaries, six sexual assaults and two thefts.
Five years ago there were no DNA crime scene matches until lawmakers okayed collecting DNA samples from all convicted felons, including those convicted of non-violent crimes, even DWI.
In 2005 only 800 DNA profiles of convicted felons were in the FBI data bank.
Today there are nearly 10,000.
In 2005 there were only two dozen crime scene DNA samples in the FBI file.
Today there are 250.
And in 2005, the Vermont crime lab was backlogged with more than 3,000 DNA samples awaiting processing.
Today there is no backlog and the lab easily processes about 1,300 samples a year.
"So at this point we will be current," Schwartz said. "You know whatever comes in every month, we should be able to handle."
"A victim should expect the same level of forensic science across the country," said Dr. Eric Buel, the director of the Vt. Crime Lab.
Buel believes forensic crime lab quality is a fundamental victims' rights issue. He says state and federal funding has dramatically improved Vermont's forensic lab capabilities in recent years. And with a new $15 million lab scheduled to be up and running in two years, Vermont will remain a forensic lab leader.
But he is concerned because other states now lag behind and that has to be fixed.
"No matter where you live, your case doesn't languish years in a backlog. That it gets treated the same way here as it would elsewhere," Buel said.
Of the 250 DNA samples now in the FBI lab, 14 are related to unsolved murders. And the police are confident that sooner or later, they will get their suspect as they did in the cases of Pamela Brown, Patricia Scoville and so many others.
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