The state of Virginia’s review of forensic DNA evidence involved in old criminal cases has ceased while it requests an additional $4.5 million of federal funding. The state’s review of this evidence could help to free some inmates that may have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for serious criminal charges. State lab workers have reviewed 534,000 case files so far and have identified more than 2,100 criminal files that contain forensic evidence. Of these 2,100 cases with evidence to examine, 366 have been sent to an independent forensic DNA lab.
The review and DNA testing began in 2005 when the governor at that time, Virginia Democrat Mark R. Warner, authorized $1.4 million of state funding after five men were cleared of rape charges when evidence from a former state DNA analyst was re-examined. That analyst, Mary Jane Burton, meticulously saved all DNA samples for the cases she tested, and as a result, Ms. Burton played a key part in the exoneration of five innocent men. Governor Warner originally allocated the funding for the review of 164,000 cases, but since his commitment, the number of cases that have been reviewed has more than tripled, and so the need for increased funding has increased exponentially.
Virginia’s director of forensic science, Peter M. Marone, stated that if the additional grant money was not approved by the Justice Department they would seek alternative funding from the State of Virginia. One way or another, the forensic DNA testing would commence. However, Mr. Marone said that the State would prefer to expend all federal grant money before utilizing that option.
With over 200 wrongfully convicted men and women who have been exonerated through the use of forensic DNA testing, it is easy to understand why the state is campaigning for the additional funding.