Boston Herald

All victims deserve timely testing of DNA evidence


The arrest of New Jersey attorney Mathew Nilo on a series of rape and assault charges was a feat of forensic mastery. Nilo, who has pleaded not guilty, was charged after his DNA was lifted from a glass and utensils at a corporate event he attended, according to prosecutor­s.

Rape kits were performed on the victims in the 2007 and 2008 cases and the DNA collected linked to one genetic profile. No suspect, however, was identified.

That’s often the case when suspects aren’t convicted offenders, who have their DNA collected and sent to CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System. That computer software program enables police to search for DNA matches when working a case.

Without a suspect, these cases, like so many, remained unsolved, until Boston police revisited them last year, according to Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Lynn Feigenbaum, using newer “forensic investigat­ive genetic genealogy” tools.

Thanks to this breakthrou­gh, DNA from a suspect’s family can serve as a tool for identifica­tion, via genetic informatio­n added to genealogy databases that users opt to make public.

The last link: FBI agents followed Nilo to a corporate event where they obtained utensils and a drinking glass allegedly used by him.

Such investigat­ive tools and innovation­s are vital to solving crimes and ultimately providing justice for victims, but they’re only effective if the work is put in.

Massachuse­tts has had a troubled history with processing of rape kits, with thousands untested for years. Finally, laws passed in 2018 and 2021 mandated speedy processing of untested kits. The backlog dwindled from nearly 6,000 to about 2,500 as of December, according to NBC Boston.

But Massachuse­tts was hardly alone — North Carolina’s inventory of untested rape kits is 16,223, according to early March numbers posted on the N.C. Department of Justice’s data dashboard. Other states are wading through their own backlogs.

Part of fighting crime is bringing perpetrato­rs to justice, and that can’t happen if all the forensic evidence isn’t brought to bear. It’s unfathomab­le that thousand of rape and assault victims are still waiting for the system to work for them.

In February, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to reauthoriz­e the Debbie Smith Act, which provides state and local law enforcemen­t agencies with resources to complete DNA evidence testing and analysis.

The Debbie Smith Act was signed into law in 2004, and named for the Virginia woman who didn’t see justice for years after DNA evidence was collected.

These efforts — from Massachuse­tts working to end our backlog, to actions such as the Debbie Smith Act to fund timely DNA evidence testing — are all laudable. But they shouldn’t be necessary.

Crime victims shouldn’t have to hope for legislativ­e action for their cases to be solved. Funding and personnel for crime scene forensic analysis should be as rudimentar­y for law enforcemen­t agencies as issuing firearms to officers.

Justice delayed is indeed justice denied.

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