Feinstein announces $400,000
to solve unsolved murder cases
Senator Dianne Feinstein. File photo (5/31/6)
By Brent Begin, Bay City News Service
October 5, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - San Francisco authorities hope a
$400,000 federal grant designed to coordinate the city's forensics
lab with a statewide DNA database will help solve a number of
cases dating back as far as 1968.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. joined San Francisco District
Attorney Kamala Harris and police Chief Heather Fong in Mayor
Gavin Newsom's office yesterday to announce the federal grant,
which is earmarked specifically for unsolved cases that have been
revitalized through the development of a statewide DNA database.
Called cold cases, the investigations involve mostly murders
and sexual assaults in which all leads have been exhausted. Harris
said there were at least 61 major cases in the city, while police
report that there are hundreds more already logged and ready to
Feinstein, who once served as the mayor of San Francisco, said
she is really looking forward to the cooperation of the city's
two major criminal justice departments.
"It gives the DA and the police department the opportunity
to work together on something that can be truly unique and that
the limited number of cases really document how DNA can work to
bring about the successful prosecution of guilty people who have
committed major crimes," Feinstein said.
Harris expressed her excitement and said she is anxious to take
advantage of the additional resources to solve serious felonies
that happened many years ago.
"Throughout the state, DA's offices and police departments
are talking about the fact that we now have this database but
where are the resources and where are the programs to now do something
and take advantage of all this new evidence that we have,"
Harris said. "San Francisco is taking the lead in that regard."
Harris also said the district attorney's office is only prosecuting
a few of the 61 cold cases estimated by the state Department of
Justice to be solvable through DNA testing.
According to Deputy Chief Morris Tabak with the San Francisco
Police Department, the city's forensic lab is more than deserving
of the federal grant.
Tabak said the lab, located near the Hunters Point naval shipyard,
would benefit from the additional resources, which are slated
to go toward new technology, staffing, computers and overtime
According to Tabak, who heads the department's special investigations
unit, the crime lab has logged plenty of overtime in recent years
backlogging more than 700 other unsolved cases.
Many of those cases, including 61 cases mentioned by Harris in
today's news conference, have yet to be connected to a criminal,
and neither Harris nor Tabak could say how many suspects are still
on the streets or are somewhere in the criminal justice system.
But today, both said that the federal grant will help to identify
those people and Tabak offered a 33-year-old case as an example
of how the work could pay off.
In April, DNA analysis led to the capture of 71-year-old John
Puckett. According to police, Puckett is suspected in the 1972
rape and murder of a 25-year-old female nurse.
Police credited technological advancements in identifying Puckett,
and the district attorney's office is now using that evidence
in the prosecution.
According to Fong, forensics evidence has become paramount in
not only putting criminals behind bars but keeping them there
"With shows like CSI ... every juror wants to see forensic
evidence," Fong said.
According to Newsom, the mayor's office is also looking forward
to multi-agency cooperation in the fight against crime.
"We've got a tremendous opportunity in the criminal justice
system to address concerns we have here at City Hall, in the state
and across the nation, to apprehend those individuals that have
participated in the criminal justice system but that haven't necessarily
been connected to a particular crime," Newsom said.
According to Feinstein, the $400,000 grant is good for one year.
As for after that, "the city's on its own, unless something
changes," she said.
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