Friday, January 21, 2011

New Katies Law proposal faces uphill battle

During her State of the State address Gov. Susana Martinez asked lawmakers to strengthen Katies Law by requiring law enforcement agencies to take DNA swabs from all suspects arrested on felony charges. But, lawmakers' reaction to the proposal is mixed.

Many, like Sen. Trip Jennings, D-Roswell, worry those swabs are an invasion of privacy and worry about having records expunged if a suspect is later acquitted.

But the mother of Katie Sepich, a 22-year-old graduate student at New Mexico State University, who was brutally raped, strangled, and whose body was eventually abandoned at a dump site in 2003, says legislator’s concerns are unfounded.

Jayann Sepich, who was invited to sit next to First Gentleman Chuck Franco on Tuesday, says since the law was originally adopted in March 2006 only 12 people have asked for their records to be expunged.

Since January 2007 authorities have gathered 7000 swabs from violent offenders, sex offenders, and burglars. And the results have been overwhelming successful.

Sepich said investigators have solved 173 crimes using the DNA records. Now 24 other states have adopted some version of Katies Law and half of those require swabs from all felony arrests, not just from violent offenders.

In our video interview Sepich told us the DNA samples include no genetic information and when they are entered into a computer do not list suspect's name nor social security number. She says the DNA information only surfaces when a match is made. Only after that do investigators received a name of a potential suspect.

Sepich said DNA can easily and quickly be expunged, while fingerprints, which are taken after every misdemeanor arrest, become part of a permanent file. She says scientists picked 13 points in the DNA strand to use as markers and those points contain no genetic information, which should alleviate privacy concerns.

Traveling around the country, Sepich said she’s heartbroken every time she hears about homicides that could have been prevented. One of those cases is Brianna Denison who was killed in Reno two years ago.

Sepich says her murder could have been prevented if James Michael Biela’s DNA had been collected after an earlier domestic violence arrest.

She also thinks the new proposal can help exonerate innocent people up front. She hopes lawmakers approve it and will be in Santa Fe trying to persuade them that "collecting DNA upon felony arrest will not only solve crimes, but prevent crimes, and save lives."

This year’s bill is being carried by Sen. Vernon Azbill , R-Carlsbad and Rep. William Rheem, R-Albuquerque, a retired police officer himself.

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