Thursday, April 12, 2007

Justice through genetics

View the article here.

I think this is personally a good idea. They should get the DNA of EVERY American citizen not just those that are convicted.

At least 15,000 inmates could be forced to provide DNA samples under legislation aimed at clearing old cases

Her murder remains one of the suburbs' most haunting mysteries.

Kristy Wesselman walked through a field near her Glen Ellyn home almost 22 years ago after buying a candy bar and soda at a local store.

In broad daylight, the 15-year-old girl was repeatedly stabbed and raped July 21, 1985, along the well-worn shortcut, not far from where a family barbecued and a clerk gathered grocery carts.

Police never nabbed her killer, despite comparing the DNA evidence he left behind with that of suspects and thousands of convicted sex offenders whose genetic profiles are in state and national databases.

A proposal pending in Springfield hopes to crack such "cold cases" by requiring a DNA sample from every imprisoned felon to be entered into the state database.

DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett proposed the legislation. It expands upon a 2002 law he spearheaded that required all newly convicted felons to submit a DNA sample.

That law did not require the thousands of felons already sitting in prison to give their DNA until just before being paroled, which in some cases may be decades or a lifetime.

For example, Birkett and other law enforcement officials say they doubt twice-convicted killer Brian Dugan's DNA ever was entered into the database despite his nearly 22-year incarceration. He is not a suspect in Kristy's murder because he was in jail at the time.

"The law makes sense," Birkett said. "We know there's no question some of these people committed other crimes, including murder, for which they were never prosecuted."

Authorities investigating the Wesselman murder believe it is unlikely the Glenbard South High School girl's attacker led an otherwise law-abiding life. Her mother agrees.

"It was so brazen," Sandra Wesselman said. "It was in the middle of the day. I can't believe this man did it only once.

"He may have done it before or again afterward. I have no way of knowing, but I'm certain this was not a one-time shot."

Planners estimate about one-third of the state's 45,140 prisoners would soon have their DNA profiles entered into the database under the proposal, should it become law. The state database now holds 252,668 offender profiles.

Supporters said strengthening the database to include the remaining imprisoned felons will work. A once-unsolved rape of a Gurnee bartender is an example of a success story.

The 21-year-old woman was raped July 12, 2001, while walking to her car after her shift. The crime remained unsolved for more than two years until police got a hit in the database with a registered sex offender who was in prison again for arson and burglary.

Eric Michael Bruhnsen ended up pleading guilty to the Gurnee rape and is serving a 40-year prison term.

State Sen. Randy Hultgren, a Wheaton Republican, sponsored the DNA legislation. It requires the Illinois State Police to enter the imprisoned felons' genetic profiles into the database within six months after it becomes law.

So far, though, the bill has failed to advance for a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Initially, state police and prison officials questioned whether the original deadline - by July 1 - was possible.

Some lawmakers who fear giving police too much power typically view DNA expansion proposals with a jaundiced eye.

For example, another bill was resurrected allowing DNA samples to be taken at the time of arrest - before conviction - in felony cases. It passed the House, but it will likely die again in the Senate. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Illinois State Bar Association and the Illinois State Appellate Defender oppose that legislation.

None of them, though, object to Hultgren's plan. Lawmakers are on spring break, but they return later this month to continue the session.

Hultgren said the proposal also may help exonerate wrongfully convicted inmates. He remains hopeful it will pass.

"I'm doing everything that I can," he said. "One way or another, we're going to get it done so that we can hopefully solve more cold cases, providing some closure to victims."

Sandra Wesselman has waited nearly 22 years to find out who killed Kristy.

"I can only hope he's sitting in prison somewhere," she said, "and not hurting someone else's child."

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