Something’s wrong with the crime labs in Austin – again. Earlier this year, it was reported that faulty DNA testing at a lab could have affected more than 2,000 criminal cases. A few days ago, it was announced that 850 rape kits may have been exposed to mold.
Austin police have been criticized for the sluggish pace at which they have been processing rape kits, with thousands in their backlog. This mold incident only adds to the public outcry.
The Problem Has Been Known About Since April
The lab notified Austin Police in April, when they received damp paperwork and found mold inside at least one sexual assault kit. The next day, an inspection of a storage refrigerator at an evidence warehouse off MLK found 849 more cases that had signs of mold on the outside. To date, none of them have been opened, so it is unknown if the mold has gotten into the kits themselves. If mold does enter the kits, it could render evidence unsalvageable. Mold essentially digests or fragments DNA into small pieces, making DNA typing more and more difficult. Given how useful DNA evidence can be in criminal defense, this problem could have wide-reaching implications.
Most of the affected rape kits are from cases from the 90s to the early 2000s that have not yet been processed.
The Texas Forensic Science Commission has since sent a letter to APD outlining 15 questions needing answers by next month to figure out what led to this situation. The same group shut down APD’s DNA lab last year for an audit due to unscientific methods used by analysts in their work.