DNA samples lead to 132 arrestsBy Jessica Heffner, Staff Writer 11:18 PM Wednesday, February 15, 2012
LONDON — A controversial program requiring DNA samples from anyone arrested in Ohio for a felony has led to 132 prime suspects in cold cases, the state attorney general’s office said Wednesday.
Since Senate Bill 77 went into effect July 1, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation has processed 4,500 DNA samples monthly. To date, 132 people involved in cold cases have been arrested using the collected DNA. The cases include rapes, murders, robberies and burglaries, the state said.
Attorney General Mike DeWine highlighted the success of the legislation Wednesday at the BCI crime lab in London. Since the program’s start July 1, 2011, the lab is processing 63 percent more DNA, and connects those samples to an average of 127 cases per month, DeWine said.
“With seven months of data, we now see how Senate Bill 77 is helping us identify more bad guys, who just might have gotten away with their crimes had it not been for the new law,” DeWine said.
While some have raised concerns that the new law infringes on civil liberties because samples are taken before people are convicted of a felony crime, DeWine said the “safety of the community certainly outweighs that arrestee(’s) ... rights at that moment.”
He cited a 2001 rape involving a 14-year-old girl in Englewood. One day after the program’s launch, Robert Bernardi was arrested in Miami County on an abduction charge. A DNA swab was taken and found to match up with evidence collected from the decade-old case. He is now being held in the Montgomery County Jail on $1 million bond and is facing additional charges of aggravated robbery, kidnapping and gross sexual imposition.
“This case was a cold case for more than 10 years, and a scientific swab cracked the case,” DeWine said.
Samples that are collected are processed into profiles that are then entered into a state and national database. Combined DNA Index System software, or CODIS, searches for matches among unsolved crimes where DNA has also been collected and entered.
Ohio’s database holds 421,584 DNA records.
There are more than 10 million samples in the nationwide database, according to DeWine’s office.
A new state bill would further expand law enforcement’s ability to collect DNA samples.
Ohio Senate Bill 268 will allow genetic material to be collected from those charged with a felony, but not arrested. This includes those summoned to court rather than held in jail. It would also allow the state to retroactively collect DNA from people arrested for a felony prior to July 1, 2011, according to the legislation.
In addition, the legislation also stipulates that those whose DNA was taken but were not convicted of the felony can petition judges to seal those records and/or remove the sample from the database.
The Ohio Senate unanimously passed the bill and it is now being considered by the state House of Representatives.