DA wants to require DNA testing

March 12, 2009 4:26:17 PM PDT
The Harris County district attorney says she will require DNA tests in all cases where it's available after an innocent man's DNA wasn't screened before he spent more than five years in prison. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Pat Lykos was to release Thursday a report detailing what contributed to the conviction of Ricardo Rachell, who last year was cleared of the 2002 sexual assault of an 8-year-old boy. Ricardo had been given a 40-year sentence.

"We are going to establish clear policies regarding forensics," Lykos said in Thursday's editions of the Houston Chronicle. "In the Rachell case, there clearly was forensic evidence and it was not tested and the question is, 'Well, why not?"'

DNA evidence has exonerated five men in Harris County in recent years.

The report will provide guidelines for when prosecutors should order DNA tests and also will call for the creation of a regional crime lab, which Lykos has supported since her campaign last year.

Lykos' findings in the Rachell case will be the latest in a series of changes she has implemented since she took office in January. She has reversed some policies of her predecessor, including last week's abandonment of a long-standing policy that criminal defense attorneys couldn't make copies of police offense reports in prosecutors' files.

In the Rachell case, Houston Police Department officers collected a rape kit from the victim and reference samples from Rachell in 2002. But that evidence wasn't tested until last year, when it pointed to another man who committed other assaults while Rachell was in prison.

So far, no one from the district attorney's office has been able to say why the evidence was not tested sooner. Lykos will use the Rachell case to push forward a plan to create a regional crime lab.

"You cannot expect a police department, no matter how large, to oversee a crime lab," Lykos said.

Lykos is proposing a regional lab at the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office, which operates its own crime lab.

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