The Kansas Bureau of Investigation has lost several forensic scientists who test DNA samples. Wrongly-accused and wrongly-convicted men and women rely on those DNA tests to set them free. Those same men and women are lobbying to fund those scientists to keep up with the backlog of tests.
One such man spent close to 20 years in prison before proving his innocence.
"I was one vote away from the death penalty," said exonerated man Darryl Hunt.
Hunt was convicted of the rape and murder of a North Carolina woman back in 1985.
"I spent 19 years, 4 months and 19 days in prison for a crime I didn't commit," said Hunt.
It was 2004 before a DNA test revealed he didn’t do it.
Courts started widely using DNA tests in the 90’s, but most labs had a long backlog, delaying results and therefore Hunt’s release.
"There's a backlog they say in almost every state on DNA. I think if we spend more resources in the right place-- this backlog wouldn't be there," said Hunt.
In Kansas, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has come a long way to work through it’s data bank backlog. In 2009 there were about 38,000 samples waiting to be tested. Today there are only 500 samples. Those are samples provided by people who have been arrested on felonies and some misdemeanors in Kansas.
The KBI’s forensic scientists admit they’re still struggling to process DNA from the scenes of violent crimes. There are about 265 cases in that backlog.
“A homicide with 100 items would take an examiner probably months to wade through,” said KBI Director of Labs Mike Van Stratton. “Part of the problem with our DNA at this time over the past few years and particularly in the last 18 months is the retention of forensic scientists. We're currently are in the process of hiring six new forensic scientists."
State and federal money to pay for those positions is low. That’s why Hunt continues to lobby for more resources toward DNA testing backlogs.
“This continues to happen today. What happened to me will happen to so many others,” said Hunt.
For his work, Hunt will receive an honorary degree from Duke University this May. He is one of 289 people nationwide who have been exonerated because of post-conviction DNA testing.
Hunt gave a lecture to the Newman University Criminal Justice Program Monday. They also hosted the screening of the award-winning document about his life, “The Trials of Darryl Hunt.”