Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $45,000)
Advances in DNA technology has led to the prosecution of cases that years ago would not have been able to be prosecuted. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office has had success in prosecuting a small number of violent crime cold cases using DNA evidence but there are a large number of cases that are awaiting prosecution because of a lack of resources available to properly investigate the cases.
Our project envisions the creation of a Forensic Evidence Prosecutor, a full-time experienced prosecutor. This position will act as the point person for all cold case DNA investigations at the District Attorney’s Office. The prosecutor will also be assigned by the District Attorney to be the liaison between the DA’s Office and the Forensic Lab and will head an Erie County Cold Case Team which would include members of the Buffalo Police Cold Case Squad, the Forensic Lab, the Erie Crime Analysis Center, and other local law enforcement agencies.
An initial review by the DA’s Office to identify qualifying cases where a suspect has been identified for prosecution resulted in 12 homicide, 13 robbery, 2 arson and 1 assault cases. Additionally, there are 76 sexual assault cases where there was a CODIS hit and a majority of those are still awaiting investigation.
The Forensic Evidence Prosecutor would be the first position in what our office hopes will be the creation of a Forensic Evidence Bureau. This would be the first bureau of its kind in New York State outside of New York City and would greatly increase our capacity to investigate and prosecute cold cases. The bureau would be responsible for the prosecution of local, state and federal DNA databank hits.
The use of DNA is not just important for prosecuting cold cases but has also been successful in exonerating those who have been unjustly convicted and who are currently in prison. A very high-profile violent crime cold case in Erie County was solved using DNA evidence. The suspect’s DNA linked him to the rape and murder of three women and also the rapes of many others over more than 20 years. The DNA evidence also had the additional benefit of exonerating a man who had been convicted of 2 rapes back in the 1980’s.
With the support of this grant funding and a dedicated prosecutor we will be able to expand the great work done by our prosecutors.