Category: Highlights

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Bureau of Justice Assistance

Kittitas County Coroner’s Office purchases portable X-ray machine that enables enhanced investigations and saves county thousands of dollars from autopsy and X-ray fees

The portable X-ray machine has truly been an asset to the Kittitas County Coroner’s Office (KCCO) and to KCCO’s investigations. In the past, those cases requiring X-rays had to be transported to a local hospital for imaging, at considerable expense to KCCO. As a result, KCCO was very selective when it came to scheduling cases for imaging. Since KCCO has received their portable X-ray machine, they have enhanced their investigation to support their forensic pathologists by providing X-rays on any case in which it appeared they would be advantageous to have. In several cases, the KCCO pathologist has been able to certify cause and manner of death by reviewing scene photos and X-rays, thereby avoiding a costly autopsy which would have been required in the absence of the images. In a recent gunshot death, KCCO was able to locate projectiles in an area they did not expect them to be found based upon their initial review of the wounds. This saved a considerable amount of time at autopsy. Overall, having access to their own dedicated X-ray machine has enabled KCCO to perform better investigations with more accurate results, while, at the same time, saving their county thousands of dollars in autopsy fees and hospital X-ray fees. The convenience of being able to obtain images at KCCO’s facility without having to transport back and forth to the hospital is a great advantage as well.
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Texas State University’s Operation Identification uses MUHR funding to assist rural jurisdictions with unidentified human remains cases

Operation Identification (OpID) within the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University started ten years ago with the aim of locating, exhuming, and working towards identification for long-term unidentified human remains (UHRs) in South Texas. These UHRs represent border crossing deaths that had no DNA samples in CODIS, and little attention given to investigation efforts. While OpID still works with long-term UHRs, OpID is also now assisting rural jurisdictions with more recent deaths thanks to the FY 2022 MUHR award. With the continual rise in migrant deaths, many counties are overwhelmed with UHRs and have little resources to process them and work towards identification. To ensure these UHR are not buried and forgotten, OpID proposed to work with local jurisdictional authorities to remotely assist with identification efforts. Recently, OpID was able to put this prosed work into action with funding from the MUHR Program. OpID was contacted by the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) on May 9, 2022, regarding the discovery of a recent UHR that was decomposed beyond recognition. Two Guatemalan identification cards were found within clothing on the remains; however, this cannot be considered an identification. The consulate was notified and contacted the family to obtain several familial reference samples (FRS). BCSO does not take DNA samples from UHRs nor do other jurisdictional authorities within the county, therefore an OpID team member traveled a few hours to Brooks County to obtain a DNA sample from the UHR in the BCSO refrigerated storage unit. Due to the strong identification hypothesis, following county protocols and chain of custody procedures, the OpID team sent the FRS and UHR DNA sample to a private laboratory for comparison at the request of the consulate. Two weeks later, OpID was notified of a positive genetic association that was then compared to all circumstantial information. The appropriate jurisdictional authority signed off on the identification and the repatriation process began. The MUHR funding allowed OpID to hire more staff allowing OpID members to travel to Brooks County for DNA collection and to provide a quick turnaround for this case. Without the capability of assisting Brooks County, previous turnaround times for DNA comparisons have been anywhere from six months to two years.
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DNA testing leads to exoneration of California man imprisoned nearly 3 decades on kidnapping and sexual assault convictions

In January 1995, a man and woman were robbed at gunpoint by two men who had also sexually assaulted the woman. Days after the crime, Gerardo Cabanillas, who was 18 at the time, was arrested because he generally matched the description of one of the suspects. Mr. Cabanillas was coerced by the investigating detective into giving a false confession after 7 hours of interrogation and promises of leniency. Mr. Cabanillas was sentenced to 87 years to life in prison for kidnapping, sexual assault, carjacking, and robbery. After 28 years in prison, DNA was shown not to match Mr. Cabanillas, and instead pointed to other perpetrators. The court used this information to dismiss the case and declare Mr. Cabanillas factually innocent.
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Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (CT)

The State of Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Fellows Make large impact at agency and contribute to the expansion of the profession

Through the support of their Strengthening the Medical Examiner-Coroner System Program grant, the State of Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has graduated three Forensic Pathology Fellows over the past two years. These fellows completed over 700 autopsies, participated in and published research projects, presented at the National Association of Medical Examiners Annual Meeting, and took an active role in teaching over 150 visiting Pathology Residents and medical students with hands-on autopsies and lectures on topics in Forensic Pathology, contributing to the expansion of the profession. Over the past year, their most recent Fellow graduate completed over 225 autopsies on a wide variety of causes and manners of death, including 34 homicides; assisted in the investigation of 23 scenes; and testified in two trials.
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Idaho State Police Forensic Services uses Coverdell funding to develop a statewide Question Documents Program and maintain Breath Alcohol Section accreditation

The Idaho State Police Forensic Services is using Coverdell funding to ramp up a statewide Question Documents Program. This Program will also service laboratories throughout the country to help address the decreasing availability of Question Documents examination. The Idaho State Police Forensic Service also employed a Coverdell–funded employee to conduct the majority of their breath alcohol calibrations to assist in maintaining accreditation of their Breath Alcohol Section. After obtaining this accreditation, they are able to calibrate every instrument in Idaho on an annual basis.
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Denver DA

Cold Case Homicide Victim Rita DesJardine Receives Justice

A Denver jury found Steven Cumberbatch (currently 61-years-old) guilty of murdering Rita DesJardine. Ms. DesJardine was 36-years old when in December 1994, her body was found in a Denver motel room. The jury found Cumberbatch guilty of one count of murder in the first degree and he was immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The verdict in the Cumberbatch case could never have been achieved without that teamwork and the sustained financial support from many federal grants focused on cold case work.
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Bureau of Justice Assistance

CEBR Funding Contributes to Approximately Half of All CODIS Hits to Date

Recent performance data from grantees show that CEBR funding is responsible for more than 500 CODIS hits per week. Based on the reported metrics, the CEBR Program has contributed to approximately half of all CODIS hits to date. See the FBI’s CODIS-NDIS Statistics page for more information on CODIS and BJA’s DNA CEBR Grantees page for more information on program accomplishments.
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Ohio BCI Receives Federal Grants to Assist in Continued Caseloads in Criminal Investigations

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has awarded two grants totaling $434,099 to the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). This funding will assist the BCI in meeting expected caseloads and enhance overall lab capacity. This much-needed investment will assist the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in their efforts to test DNA cases at no cost to law enforcement agencies in Ohio. These resources will help Ohio law enforcement bring more criminals to justice and prevent crime in our communities.