Chicago Tribune is reporting:
"The number of DNA samples from rapes and other serious offenses that sit untested at the Illinois crime lab for more than 30 days remains alarmingly high four years after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich declared the problem had been eliminated. In 2005, the year Blagojevich proclaimed the DNA backlog gone, it included at least 170 cases. And today, 1,167 cases are taking more than a month to analyze, with nearly half of the DNA samples from rape kits, according to a Tribune review of lab statistics. Sexual assault victims and law-enforcement officials say it can take as long as a year for DNA to be analyzed at the Illinois State Police Crime Lab, the third-largest forensic laboratory in the world.
"There are numerous cases in which offenders have remained unidentified due to the inability or the failure of the crime lab to analyze DNA evidence from a crime victim or a crime scene," the Cook County state’s attorney’s office told the auditor general, according to the report. "These offenders have not only retained their liberty longer than they would have had the lab worked up the evidence in a timely manner, but have gone on to murder and victimize other people."
The findings come at a time when major backlogs of untested rape kits — some older than a decade — were recently exposed in Los Angeles County, prompting promises of reforms. Confronted with a serious DNA backlog 10 years ago, New York City vowed to reduce it and now boasts a six-week turnaround time for rape kits, experts say.
After the state lab’s DNA backlog first came to light in 2003, Blagojevich and the General Assembly allocated additional funds for forensics and told the lab to make annual reports on progress in cutting the backlog. In July 2005, Blagojevich, armed with state police crime lab statistics, announced the backlog had been eliminated. Blagojevich spokesman Glenn Selig said Thursday that the governor used numbers provided by an assistant and never intended to present false information. In 2007, the state police lab reported its DNA backlog had resurfaced with 668 cases and a turnaround time of 72 days. But the agency assured the governor and the General Assembly that the backlog would be reduced the following year because of improvements.
Convinced the workload at the lab appeared under control, a non-profit group that had formed to address the problem disbanded. The group, begun four years earlier, raised private funds to help pay for the testing of hundreds of rape kits that sat untested in storage at the Chicago Police Department. With that task completed, the Women’s DNA Initiative saw no need to continue, said Sheri Mecklenburg, who launched the effort when she served as general counsel to the Chicago police superintendent. "We assumed they could keep up with the current caseload," she said. The General Assembly, which appropriates money to the state crime lab and other state agencies, was also in the dark, said state Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs). "We were lied to," said Durkin, who sponsored legislation in 2007 calling for the audit of the state crime lab. "To know how to handle this, it’s extremely important that they act in a transparent way."
In reality, the state crime lab was not including in its reports information about rape kits and other samples outsourced to private labs that were going untested for more than 30 days. Thousands of cases were outsourced each year, with an average turnaround time that exceeded those tested inside the state crime lab, the audit said. Once the auditor general brought this issue to light in 2008, the agency began reporting both its in-house and outsourced backlog."