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Thursday, March 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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DNA index helps link suspects to crimes

Forensic scientist Anna Wilson examines biological evidence under a forensic light source at Washington State Patrol crime lab in October. (FILE)
Forensic scientist Anna Wilson examines biological evidence under a forensic light source at Washington State Patrol crime lab in October. (FILE)

DNA testing in Washington is identifying more criminals than ever before.

The Washington State Patrol crime lab reported 379 hits last year using a DNA index system and DNA samples from crime suspects and convicted felons. In 2009, 257 hits were recorded.

Officials attribute the increase to a new program that tests evidence from property crimes, as well as technological improvement. Investigators have gleaned more than 1,500 leads from DNA since the state implemented the system more than 10 years ago, according to a WSP news release.

The news release cited a Spokane grocery store robber arrested after DNA he submitted for a drug conviction was matched to DNA found on a fake wig he wore during the June 2009 crime.

Donald R. Wright pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery last May.

Other examples include the recent arrest of Gary Trimble, who’s accused of murdering Dorothy Burdette in 1986.

DNA obtained after a 2007 conviction in Montana matched DNA found on Burdette’s bra and on a blanket in which her body was wrapped. Trimble was extradited from Montana in January.

Already this year, 23-year-old Louis Kuster, of Spokane, was arrested in January for a year-old rape after DNA submitted for a property crime conviction matched DNA found on the victim.

“This is about arresting and convicting the guilty, and clearing the innocent,” WSP Chief John R. Batiste said in a prepared statement. “DNA is the most reliable way we’ve ever had for telling if someone was present at a crime scene.”

The DNA lab, located in Seattle, receives about 1,400 samples from convicted felons each month. The database contains more than 194,000 DNA profiles.

Samples are regularly compared to DNA evidence from more than 3,500 crimes statewide and to the national DNA database.

More than half of last year’s hits were linked to burglaries, and about 39 percent were for violent crimes such as murder, rape, robbery or assault.

Nearly 80 percent of the 379 hits were from people convicted of nonviolent crimes like burglary or drug possession, which the WSP says “shows the value of capturing DNA from those convicted of less severe, mostly nonviolent crimes.”

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