MU Forensic Science Center lends hand to New Orleans Police - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Marshall Forensic Science Center lends hand to New Orleans Police

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By JAMES E. CASTO

For The State Journal

HUNTINGTON — The Marshall University Forensic Science Center has successfully extended a helping hand to the New Orleans Police Department, processing a backlog of more than 800 sexual assault kits, many of them damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Terry W. Fenger, director of the Forensic Science Center, told people gathered at an April 10 news conference at the center that its DNA laboratory is at the core of its mission of providing critical assistance to the law enforcement community. Nationally recognized and accredited, the lab provides important analysis services to law enforcement agencies. 

Commander Paul Noel of the New Orleans Police Department came to Huntington to thank Fenger and the DNA lab staff for the aid rendered his department. He told the news conference that the work done at Marshall has already resulted in convictions for two rape defendants with additional defendants soon set to stand trial.

"You need to know that the work you did here has sent two individuals to prison for their rest of their lives," he said, adding that rape carries a mandatory life sentence in Louisiana.

Noel said Hurricane Katrina left the department's evidence room and its DNA lab under water. The evidence room already had housed a backlog of unprocessed rape kits, some dating back to the 1980s. But many of the hundreds of kits were damaged by the water that flooded the evidence room. And the water also put the department's DNA lab out of commission.

Noel said his department immediately started sorting things out but quickly realized it was going to need help. At that point, it turned to the federal government for assistance.

Mark Nelson, program manager with the National Institute of Justice, said when New Orleans sought his agency's help, he immediately thought of Marshall and its Forensic Science Center because the center had earlier successfully processed a backlog of rape kits for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office.

Nelson described the effort to deal with the New Orleans rape kits as "a federal, state, local and university partnership," involving the U.S. Department of Justice, the Louisiana State Crime Laboratory, the New Orleans Police Department and Marshall. Thanks to that partnership, he said, "we have helped victims achieve much-delayed justice."

Alyson Saadi, DNA tech leader with the Louisiana State Crime Lab, praised Marshall's "professionalism" in processing the kits in a timely fashion.

Fenger said he was especially proud that the work on the New Orleans rape kits was done by graduates of Marshall's two-year master's degree program in forensic science.

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