Progress continues on crime lab

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 26, 2005

At one time, he was one of the state’s most sought-after criminals.

The man, known as the &uot;I-20 Rapist,&uot; had victimized women in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia.

&uot;We knew the acts were committed by a single person,&uot; Mary Holt of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences said.

The man may still be on the loose today, if not for a national DNA database that eventually linked him to the crimes.

Holt can give several stories of how DNA has helped law enforcement solve crimes.

&uot;He can be in Texas as a burglar and have committed a rape here,&uot; she said. &uot;We do get hits between states quite a bit.&uot;

The state could solve a lot more cases like that, except for lack of funding and lack of space.

Currently, the Birmingham division, which serves Shelby County, is actually divided into three locations due to space limitations. Two forensic labs are located in downtown Birmingham, while an implied consent lab (alcohol breath testing lab) is located in Calera.

Fortunately, the space problem will soon be corrected.

A groundbreaking ceremony for a new two-story, regional laboratory was held last month at the Hoover Public Safety Center on Valleydale Road, just inside the Shelby County line.

The 80,000-square-foot building should be completed by November.

&uot;We’re looking forward to (the opening) because everybody will be together,&uot; Holt said.

While the entire building will not be finished when it opens, there will be about 60,000 square feet of available space – double what is available now.

&uot;Each section has room for expansion,&uot; Holt said.

According to a press release from the department, funding was made possible by Amendment 6, which Alabama voters approved in 1998. The new laboratory will include a statewide forensic training section and combine forensic biology, a DNA database, firearms/tool marks, drug chemistry, toxicology, fire debris analysis, death investigation and implied consent.

&uot;The modern design and layout of the facility will permit utilization of state-of-the-art instrumentation and additional space for case workers,&uot; the press release stated.

&uot;The laboratory will allow the Department of Forensic Sciences to better serve the criminal justice system and the citizens of the state of Alabama.&uot;

The department will save considerable time when the new lab is open, according to Holt, because personnel will not have to travel between three departmental locations.

&uot;It’s (The current setup is) time consuming. It’s not very efficient,&uot; Holt said.

In the future, a morgue could be placed on site, with up to four pathologists on staff