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A "tough on crime" reputation plays well on the campaign trail for Ohio attorney general candidates. It worked wonders for former Republican Attorney General Betty Montgomery, who won two terms in the 1990s by talking a big game about the law enforcement functions of the office.
So as Democratic Attorney General Richard Cordray and his Republican challenger, Mike DeWine, battle to become Ohio's top lawyer for the next four years, both desire to be seen as the better choice for handling the law enforcement portion of the office.
On DeWine's campaign website, the former prosecutor calls safety and crime prevention his top priority should he be elected. And DeWine hammers on Cordray for what he sees as inefficiency in the processing of DNA crime evidence at the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI), a branch of the AG's office.
"There are currently delays of up to six months in the processing of DNA evidence at the state run crime lab," DeWine states on his campaign website.
We decided to check out DeWine’s statement to see if the BCI lab was really taking "up to" six months to process DNA evidence.
Cordray's office told us that many factors play a role in how long it takes for results to come back.
Cases where someone has been arrested, will jump ahead of cases where no one has been jailed, pushing back wait times for non-prioritized cases. Also, "case types that involve violence against a person are normally worked ahead of less violent case types," according to an e-mail from Cordray’s office.
BCI statistics provided by Cordray’s office show a small portion of DNA cases cases do drag on "up to six months" and even longer. Those records also show, though, that it's far from typical. The average turnaround time in processing DNA evidence has dropped from 100 days in 2009 to 71 days in 2010.
The credit goes to increased staffing resulting from filling "several" vacancies in the crime lab as well as increased use of robotics in processing the DNA evidence, according to Cordray's office. They also acknowledge that some of the DNA work is being sent to outside labs when, they say, more advanced and sophisticated testing is needed. (DeWine's campaign agrees that the average DNA evidence turnaround time is dropping in 2010, but it says that more work is being outsourced as a ploy to lower Cordray's statistics.)
Sixty-five of 854 current DNA cases -- 7.6 percent -- have gone beyond the "up to" six months mark cited by DeWine. Of those 65 cases, 62 involve work being done by outside laboratories, which Cordray's office argues shouldn't count on their tally.
We also asked DeWine's campaign for evidence of "up to" six month delays. They pointed us to a trio of examples detailed in media reports.
We tossed out one because the case predated Cordray's time in office by six months.
The second was described March 26, 2010, in the Marietta Times. The article describes how the arrest of a suspect in the rape of a college student was delayed for nearly a year because of a backlog at the BCI lab.
Acting Chief Jim Weaver of the Marietta College police confirmed that "we got our match right around a year from when we gave the sample." The DNA evidence was sent to BCI on April 3, 2009, and returned to his office on March 16, 2010.
Weaver, the lead detective on the case, said BCI officials told him the 50-week delay was because "we didn't have anyone in custody and we didn't need it to keep anyone in jail, so it kept getting pushed back."
The third example from a WTOL-TV report May 3, 2010, focused on a lengthy delay in DNA evidence processing in the murder of 91-year-old Grace Kennedy in Bryan, Ohio.
Bryan police Capt. Paul Zawodny told us that the crime scene DNA evidence was received by BCI just hours after the Dec. 23, 2009, murder was discovered. The first DNA results came back April 5, 2010, a span of about four and a half months, Zawodny said.
The officer said part of the reason for the lag time was that prosecutors had to give the BCI lab permission to use all of a suspect's DNA sample while doing the testing.
DeWine's campaign sought to bolster its case by putting us into contact with Union County Prosecutor David Phillips, a Republican, who said that DNA evidence has recently taken longer than six months to be processed by BCI.
"On average, we are waiting a long time -- sometimes even over a year for DNA evidence -- and during that time the case is just sitting there," Phillips said. The county prosecutor since 2005, Phillips said "I wouldn't say it's gotten any worse under Cordray's watch, but I wouldn't say it's gotten any better."
Phillips said his most recent DNA evidence-based case was a rape case where a suspect had been arrested, triggering a 90-day clock (about three months) under the constitutional provision for a speedy trial. He said he was on the phone "a lot" pressing the BCI lab to meet the 90-day window, which they did by only 10 days causing his office "anxiety" that the deadline would be missed freeing the suspect.
We find that DeWine’s statement is accurate when he states that the processing of DNA evidence is currently taking "up to six months," as at least the Marietta example far exceeds that window. Even Cordray's own statistics show that processing of DNA evidence stretches beyond six months in about 7 percent of cases, including at least three cases not shipped to an outside lab.
But the BCI statistics Cordray’s office provided show that more than 90 times in 100 the processing time falls somewhat short of "up to" six month mark cited by DeWine. Cordray’s staff also cites records that show that the turnaround time has dropped by about one-third. That's clearly additional contextual information not given by DeWine that tends to undercut the clear inference of his statement -- that DNA cases are dragging on for long stretches of time under Cordray.
Therefore, we rate DeWine's statement that DNA evidence is currently taking up to six months to be processed by the BCI crime lab to be Half True.
Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation case statistics
Washington Court House Record-Herald, "Guard arraigned on sex charges," May 6, 2009
Marietta Times, "Arrest in ‘09 MC campus rape," March 26, 2010
WTOL-TV, "Justice Denied," May 3, 2010
E-mail correspondence with Leesa Brown, Cordray communications director
E-mail correspondence with Holly Hollingsworth, Cordray spokeswoman.
Interview with John Hall, campaign manger for Mike DeWine for Ohio, July 14, 2010
Interview with Marietta College Acting Police Chief Jim Weaver, July 14, 2010
Interview with Bryan Police Department Capt. Paul Zawodny, July 15, 2010
Interview with Mark Weaver, campaign consultant for Mike DeWine for Ohio, July 30, 2010
Interview with Union County Prosecutor David Phillips, July 30, 2010
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