CASS COUNTY – A crime ring involving dozens of home burglaries in four counties. An 11-year-old girl found dead in her bed days after Halloween. Cases like those are taking months to solve because of state funding cuts in Michigan. WSBT’s Fact Finder team discovered those cuts lead to a massive backlog in the state police crime lab.
For Joe Dvorak, it started in 2006 – the night doctors took his mother off life support.
“We went up there to take the plugs off of her and while we were up there, they robbed her,” he said. “I had a lot of stuff out here. They stole it all.”
Over the course of 30 break-ins and about two years, three men – Doug Barbour, Ronald Eash and Loren Beckwith – stole tools, jewelry… his mother's wedding dress from the property
“My father, in World War II he guarded the President’s wife. I [had] pictures where he’s sitting next to Mrs. Roosevelt. And he had all kind of souvenirs from the islands that he stole [from] me,” Dvorak said.
He wasn’t alone.
“[It was] a three-headed monster was operating in four counties in Michiana,” Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said. “These guys, real problems for months.”
In 2007 Doug Barbour, Ronald Eash and Loren Beckwith broke into 10 homes on Diamond Lake.
Beckwith left his own fecal matter in one of those homes.
“The evidence was actually in our hands in early 2007,” said Fitz, showing a photo of the feces on a bench inside one of the victims’ homes.
Fitz sent that evidence to the state police crime lab. But because of a backlog caused by staffing shortages it took 18 months to process the DNA and match it to Beckwith.
“Like many counties during that period of time, we continued to have breakings and enterings occurring,” Fitz said.
Ultimately, Beckwith confessed and helped lead investigators to Barbour and Eash. The prosecutor convicted all three.
A report from the Justice Center Council of State Governments says the average delay for processing DNA from January to September 2008 was 135 days. The main reasons - lack of state money, and not enough people working there.
The backlog is also affecting the recent case of an 11-year-old Cass County girl, Destany Frick, who was found dead in her bed last November. Fitz wouldn’t comment on the case because it's an open investigation, but confirms the backlog is affecting it.
“I can say that I know if they’re working under optimum conditions, likely we would have had the results already,” he told WSBT.
Just like that little girl’s friends and family members are waiting for closure, Joe Dvorak says closure is something he’ll likely never have.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder released part of his proposed budget for 2012 and 2013 Thursday afternoon. In it, he's asking for a 16 percent funding boost for state police from the general fund. That money would be used to help increase patrols in high crime areas and potentially adding state troopers. It would also add more staff to crime labs.
For years, Michigan has been running a deficit but now there's a surplus and this is where the governor is choosing to put some of that extra money.