Did serial rapist slip through cracks?
Captain Chip Harding started noticing something funny in the serial rapist investigation that's gone on since the first reported rape in 1997: Several "persons of interest" in the case didn't turn up on the state's DNA database who should have. "I assumed it was a blip," says Harding. "Then recently, my buddy said, look at this guy, and it happened again." The suspect was not in the database. "I began to wonder how many we don't have," he says at a press conference today.
Two different data comparison of convicted felons to the DNA databank caused Harding to think that it's possible 20 percent of the offenders who should be in there are not. And what if one of them is the serial rapist?
Virginia passed legislation in 1990 to take DNA samples from convicted violent felons and sex offenders and has since expanded the categories of those who must provide samples. The state has one of the best DNA databanks in the country, thanks to Harding's efforts. Back in 1997, he was in Richmond and saw 150,000 unprocessed samples "of all that evil" sitting a refrigerator." He pushed for funding from then-Governor George Allen, and worked with Paul Ferrara, director of forensics, to get the backlog processed. And the number of cold hits– DNA taken from crime scenes that matched DNA in the database– skyrocketed from maybe four hits a year to about two a day.
Harding insists he's not pointing fingers, but in Charlottesville alone, the probation office pulled 600 cases of felons currently under supervision, and discovered that 125 of them– 21 percent– are not in the state DNA database. And he doesn't think it's just a Charlottesville problem.
Currently, no single person has statewide responsibility for making sure the DNA collection laws are enforced. Harding feels this is one tough-on-crime effort that can garner bipartisan support. He's got Delegate Rob Bell poised to write legislation and he plans to lobby other elected officials, because, he says, if 20 percent of the state's felons aren't in the database, "That's a whole lot of violent predators out there."