April 2, 2009 by Jenna Candelaria Round Up
New Mexico State University and the City of Las Cruces are seeing the benefits of a forensic laboratory reducing DNA test time to just weeks instead of a year or more for evidence results.
The Forensic Testing Laboratory (FTL) at NMSU is one of nine full-service forensic testing labs in the nation and uses specialized DNA testing for evidence. Such advanced testing can help with a rape investigation up to 18 hours after an attack, an improvement that can cut evidence processing time from a state crime lab.
“We can basically take DNA from a cold case, and in about an hour we can have a result telling us the ethnic profile,” said FTL General Manager Stefan A. Long. “Identifying people through DNA would take us about a week or two.”
Forensic science has also made its way into criminal justice studies at NMSU.
“We are using DNA evidence more now that we know more about it,” said criminal justice major Ashley Butler. “This is a great opportunity for law enforcement.”
FTL is part of a group of DNA and forensic testing businesses spun off from NMSU in 2005 and still partially owned by the university. In addition to FTL, the group consists of the Genetics Testing Laboratories, the Clinical Testing Laboratories and Fire and Crime Scene Advanced Continuing Education. Each operation is housed at the NMSU Arrowhead Genesis Center.
“Right now, because of what we are able to do in this lab, and the speed at which we are able to do it, people don’t think we are real,” FTL Vice President Jack Ellis said. “We have a lot of very qualified people who have stuck their neck out and taken us to the next level.”
FTL is fully accredited to handle criminal evidence and has already helped the Las Cruces Police Department and the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office with cases.
Butler interns with the Crime Scene Investigation unit and said the use of forensic testing is a growing field in larger areas.
“Forensic testing is always backed up and takes great amounts of time,” Butler said. “Labs are essential in the field.”
Long said using DNA evidence to profile the ethnicity of a criminal allows investigators to set aside large groups of possible suspects, saving time and resources.
“People want closure,” Long said. “People don’t want to wait for a year to have their loved ones identified or find out what happened to them.”