IMPD, crime lab get $250,000 cold case grant

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (November 9, 2014) -- Indianapolis Metropolitan police and the Indianapolis Marion County Forensic Services Agency will share in a quarter-million dollar federal grant to dive into the backlog of cold case homicides on the city's books.

Some of those cases go back decades.

The crime lab will receive $51,000 to pay for supplies and technician overtime to examine unsolved murders.

"There is no case that we would deem unfit for us to review if it's a case that our contributors, and in this case IMPD, would bring us," said Laboratory Director Michael Medler.

Every day, technicians in the DNA section of the lab on the second floor of the Marion County Coroner's Office peer through microscopes, run tests and examine evidence in the hope of discovering the science that will be key to the search for truth in hundreds of criminal cases.

"We typically examine rape kits, sexual assaults, homicides, burglaries, handgun possessions, just a variety of case types come through here," said Shelley Crispin, DNA technology leader in the lab's biology section. "What we do here, if we have a victim or a suspect, and we have samples from a crime scene, we can do a comparison from the samples from the crime scene with known DNA samples from victims or suspects."

The popularity of science-based crime shows on television has served to both educate the public and raise the expectations of jurors.

"On homicide cases, 73% of the time jurors want physical evidence with forensic science behind it to make a decision," said Medler. "People are often affected by what they see on TV. We often times can't do it that quickly but science is something where we're looking for the facts. It's science based. It's not what someone says. It's not someone who changes their story. It's not a witness that you can no longer find. It's going to be there as long as we can develop it using science which is what occurs here with our DNA and serology testing."

Forensic technology has moved beyond the testing of blood, semen and saliva for proof of DNA to the type of examination that can literally put a gun in a suspect's hands.

"We've implemented a couple of new different kits that are further on down the line and they are able to pick up more touch, what we can consider touch DNA samples," said Crispin. "What we consider skin cell samples and so we are able to obtain results from samples now that when I first got here we were not able to obtain results from.

"What we do here, if we have a victim or a suspect, and we have samples from a crime scene, we can do a comparison from the samples from the crime scene with known DNA samples from victims or suspects."

While some cities have backlogs of thousands of untested DNA rape kits, Medler said the Marion County backlog lists only a few dozen.

You'll see more of the lab's DNA work in solving cold case homicides in "Indianapolis Unsolved," a special report Thursday night on FOX59 News at 10.