200503.16
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DNA Swab Numbers Cut

in Not BTK

DNA swabs have been collected from only about 1,300 people in the BTK serial murder investigation, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston said Tuesday — less than one-third the number she reported in an earlier news conference about the case. Foulston said the 4,000 figure she used in January actually referred to the number of tips that were cleared by the 1,300 samples. In many cases, Wichita police asked a person for a sample after receiving multiple tips about him. Foulston said the discrepancy in the numbers surfaced during a meeting about the case Tuesday morning.

During an afternoon news conference, she said the DNA “elimination samples” were compared only to evidence collected in the BTK investigation. She said the samples would not be put into any criminal DNA database. Police started collecting DNA samples from potential suspects in March 2004 after BTK sent a letter to The Eagle that claimed responsibility for a 1986 murder that had not previously been linked to him.

Ten other packages have since turned up that reportedly were connected to the killer. One contained a computer disk that reportedly led police to the arrest last month of Dennis L. Rader. Rader is awaiting a preliminary hearing on 10 counts of first-degree murder.

During the news conference, Foulston apologized for the mix-up in the numbers and said she did not blame it on the Wichita Police Department, which oversaw the collection of the samples. “It was my fault, not their fault,” she said. “I don’t know why no one corrected me…before today.” The 4,000 figure had been widely reported in the past two months.

Foulston said the DNA samples probably will be held in the crime labs that processed them — one at the Sedgwick County Forensic Science Center and one at Kansas Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Topeka. Although some have questioned plans to hold onto the evidence from people who have been cleared, Foulston said state law requires evidence in criminal cases to be kept as long as the case remains open. If and when the BTK investigation is closed, she said, it will be up to a judge to decide what to do with the evidence. She said a judge could decide to simply destroy it.

In the meantime, Foulston said, law enforcement officials will make no attempts to solve other crimes with the samples. “This evidence will not, shall not and cannot be placed in any database at all,” she said. The evidence is not subject to the Kansas Open Records Act, she said. “These records are not available to anyone in the media,” she said. “These records are not available to anyone on the street. These records are protected. “We are the guardians of this evidence, and evidence is being protected.”

One Wichita defense lawyer with an interest in the topic is Dan Monnat, who represents a man who was forced through a court order to submit a DNA sample to police. The man, Roger Valadez, went to court last week in an effort to get the sample back.

“Negotiations are ongoing with the state of Kansas in that case, and we are hopeful that the matter will be resolved by agreement,” Monnat said.

Foulston declined to comment on the Valadez case.

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The Wichita Eagle – By Hurst Laviana