New federal crime lab opens in The Woodlands

May 12, 2010 8:26:08 PM PDT
A new tool will help police solve crimes and relieve the backlog of tests prosecutors wait for every day. Sam Houston State University just opened a federally crime lab in The Woodlands to serve southeast Texas.

There's Morphius and Mary Jane -- that's just the name of a few of the machines at work here. There also are ten full time examiners, testing blood and drugs.

"The evidence speaks for itself," said Mike Manes, the laboratory's manager. "The substance is or is not cocaine for, example."

Manes has worked at about every level of criminal justice, as a police officer and sheriff's deputy and forensic scientist. He's now manager of this Sam Houston State University lab.

"The testing is essential in order to prosecute," Manes said.

This lab will lighten the load for its chief customer, Montgomery County, and about 10 more counties north of Houston.

Doctor Sarah Kerrigan, who's also the former head of Scotland Yard's crime lab, says while they won't be solving crimes by the end of a tv show, they'll get results.

"We are really designed to provide high output services, but it may not be as quickly as, you know, we're done in 45 minutes," Kerrigan said.

The improvements are dramatic. Simple blood work and drug tests can take up to a year at some Texas labs, but here, it's just two weeks!

From drug possession cases to DWI's and sexual assaults that may involve alcohol or drugs, this lab will be able to handle as many as 6,000 cases a year. That puts a huge dent in the backlog of cases at many crime labs and increases the speed in which prosecutors can get results.

"Being able to turn them around quickly and efficiently, it benefits everybody," Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said.

Ligon says prosecutors in Texas' fastest growing county currently send tests to a very overwhelmed DPS lab in Austin.

"Good law enforcement should not only be a sword protecting its citizenry, but it should be a shield to defend as well," Ligon said. "So if we're talking about quick results from a lab, you are also talking about the possibility of exonerations."

And whether it's dismissing a case due to innocence or convicting someone of guilt, getting to that point quickly is something just about everyone wants.

The crime lab is in the process of accreditation by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors and the Texas Department of Public Safety. It should begin accepting cases this fall.


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