Grant set to fund DNA tests by police

Abell Foundation OKs assistance for backlog of unsolved violent crimes

Up to $350,000 offered

January 23, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore-based foundation has given city police a grant worth up to $350,000 to pay for DNA testing of evidence gathered from homicides and other violent crimes -- money that could help detectives make a dent in a backlog of 5,000 unsolved cases.

The grant by the Abell Foundation follows revelations last week that city police and ABC News' 20/20 entered into an agreement to pay $8,750 each to test 50 "cold" cases. The tests have resulted in six DNA matches that led to the arrests of two men charged in violent crimes, including a 1989 homicide, police said.

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, said yesterday that the foundation's eight-member board of trustees took the unusual step of approving the grant between scheduled meetings after receiving a personal appeal from Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris three weeks ago.

"We felt this was so important," Embry said. "We're talking about evidence in capital cases, extremely violent cases. ... And we didn't want to wait around for another month or six weeks."

The grant was given to the Baltimore Police Foundation, a nonprofit group that will transfer funds to police.

The grant will initially fund tests on evidence in 124 homicide cases in which detectives believe they have a suspect but lack enough information to obtain a warrant to test the suspect's DNA against the specimen, said Ed Koch, director of the department's crime laboratory.

Police hope the tests on the evidence will match DNA profiles stored in state databases, Koch said, allowing detectives to obtain warrants or rule out suspects.

If the tests lead to DNA matches, police will receive a second and third round of funds -- up to a total of $350,000 -- to test evidence in 90 high-priority rape cases and 500 homicides that might have DNA evidence but no suspects, Koch said.

The tests will cost about $450 each.

City police and Mayor Martin O'Malley are pushing state legislators to spend $4 million to increase DNA testing. They are also pushing to add all people convicted of felonies and serious misdemeanors to a state DNA database. Today, those convicted of murder, rape, aggravated assault and child abuse are in the state's database, which contains 13,500 profiles, officials said.

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