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Joyful Heart in the News
Cuomo: DNA bill shouldn’t be subject to ‘Albany game’
In a Red Room jam-packed with law enforcement officials and victims advocates, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pressed the case for his expansion of the state DNA database to include samples from all misdemeanor and felony convictions — and resisted calls to expand the legislation to include other criminal justice reforms.
The crowd heard from a Queens mother identified as “Ann M.” who described how the man who raped and assaulted her 12-year-old daughter was caught a decade later after being identified by a DNA sample collected after a petit larceny conviction.
“Frankly, I find it appalling that this conversation is still going on,” she said of the question of expanding the databank.
Cuomo noted “an unprecedented coalition of support” — including all 62 state DAs, all 58 county sheriffs and 400 police chiefs.
“This is just saying, ‘Provide the facts and the information when you have it,’” he said.
DNA analysis “is a modern-day fingerprint. It’s a state of the art fingerprint — that’s all it is,” Cuomo continued. “It is a better tool to prove identities — that’s all it is. And if you have the information, why wouldn’t you want to use it? … Why wouldn’t you want to get guilty people off the streets if you knew you had access to the information? … If you knew you could exonerate a person who was wrongfully convicted, who was sitting in prison, why wouldn’t you want access to the information?”
While the state Senate has passed a version of the legislation that has received Cuomo’s blessing, Assembly Democrats have echoed the concerns of the state Bar Association and others who would like to use the expansion to make other changes to investigatory procedure, including videotaping of interrogations, improving police lineups and allowing those who take a guilty plea to take a
“I don’t want to play the normal Albany game with this bill,” Cuomo said, “which is (to say), ‘Well, let’s use this bill to accomplish unrelated things that we want to get done,’ right? This bill is about DNA and the use of DNA, and the use of DNA to prove guilt or prove innocence. And this is the bill that we want to pass. … Let’s not make this bill a vehicle to debate other issues.” (Cuomo denied that he was playing the same game by dropping a Tier VI pension change into the budget.)
Asked if the bill should be done before the budget is passed, Cuomo said it should be done “tomorrow,” prompting a burst of applause.
Cuomo said he wasn’t well-versed in the state lab’s use of familial testing, which has been criticized by privacy advocates.
Here’s the epic press release that accompanied the event:
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that all 62 County District Attorneys, all of the state’s 58 County Sheriffs, more than 400 New York State Police Chiefs, and leading victims’ advocacy groups have endorsed the DNA Databank Expansion bill, which will help solve more crimes, prevent crimes, bring justice to victims and exonerate innocent New Yorkers.
“Expanding the DNA Databank will protect New Yorkers and modernize our state’s criminal justice system,” Governor Cuomo said. “This crucial crime fighting tool embraces technology to help convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. I thank the District Attorneys, Sheriffs, Chiefs and advocacy groups for their hard work and hope that the legislature takes note of the near universal support for this issue.”
Bronx County District Attorney Robert T. Johnson said, “The DNA Databank will help safeguard communities and exonerate the innocent. We should not fear that sensitive or personal biological information could be released because information of that nature will not be stored in the DNA Databank. The real fear here should be that we are allowing people to remain on the streets who could commit other crimes. The real fear here should be that we are allowing people to stay in jail who could be exonerated when the true perpetrators of the crimes could be identified with DNA. This databank is an effective tool that we should not turn our back on. I commend the Governor for his leadership in advocating for this bill and I encourage our state legislators to pass it.”
Ann M., mother of a rape survivor said, “Expanding the DNA Databank will not just solve and prevent crime, it will help protect other families from the pain my family has suffered over the past decade — pain no parent should ever be forced to suffer. I urge the State Legislature to do the right thing and pass this expansion. I thank the Governor for advocating for this bill and for his commitment to keeping all New Yorkers safe.”
Peter R. Kehoe, Executive Director of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, said, “The Governor’s proposed legislation to expand DNA collection to all convicted criminals is great news for the Sheriffs of New York State and the communities they serve. This new law would assist our Sheriffs to efficiently and effectively protect the public, by preventing crimes from ever occurring or making sure those who committed crimes are properly and fairly punished for their actions. Our association supports this legislation, and we applaud the Governor’s efforts to improve the state’s criminal justice system.”
Putnam County Sheriff Donald B. Smith, President of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, said, “On behalf of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association and all of the outstanding Sheriffs in New York State, I announce our strong support for the Governor’s proposal to expand the state’s DNA Databank. DNA technology has exponentially revolutionized law enforcement’s ability to solve crimes and keep our counties and New York State a safe place to live, work and raise a family. DNA is accurate. DNA is reliable. DNA helps us solve crimes, apprehend and convict the guilty, especially repeat offenders. DNA helps clear and protect the innocent. The key limiting factor to our ability to solve crimes through DNA is the limit placed on us by the Databank. This proposal corrects that shortfall. I thank Governor Cuomo and all of the Legislators in Albany who are working hard to make this law.”
New York State’s Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Elizabeth Glazer said, “Every day we wait to expand the state’s DNA Databank, another cold case goes unresolved, a person wrongly convicted sits in prison, and we risk one of our loved ones falling victim to a crime that could have been prevented. How do we know this? Because we have evidence that shows every time we expanded the Databank, we solved more crimes. It’s just that simple.”
New York State has yet to realize the full potential of the DNA Databank because state law only permits DNA to be collected from 48 percent of offenders convicted of a Penal Law crime. Currently, only those convicted of a felony or one of 36 misdemeanors under the Penal Law must provide a DNA sample.
The Governor’s proposal would require DNA samples to be collected from anyone convicted of all remaining Penal Law misdemeanors and any felony in any state law, not just felonies under the Penal Law. That includes such crimes as felony driving while intoxicated under the Vehicle and Traffic Law, aggravated animal cruelty under the Agriculture and Markets Law, and prescription drug offenses under the Public Health Law would be covered under the law. The New York State Senate passed the DNA Databank Expansion Bill on Jan. 31, 2012.
The Databank was created in 1996. Since that time, DNA evidence has helped prosecutors obtain nearly 2,900 convictions and helped exonerate 27 innocent New Yorkers.
The last expansion in 2006, which made some low-level misdemeanors DNA-eligible, resulted in the apprehension of hundreds of criminals. For example: · DNA samples taken from individuals convicted of the misdemeanor crime of petit larceny have been linked to 998 crimes, including 53 murders, 223 sexual assaults, 123 robberies, and 427 burglaries. And DNA samples taken from individuals convicted of second-degree criminal trespass have been linked to 30 homicides, 111 sexual assaults and 123 burglaries, among other crimes.
The expansion of the DNA Databank has helped solve crimes such as the murders of three women in Yonkers that occurred over a seven-year span from 1989 to 1996. The Yonkers Police Department’s Cold Case Unit and the Westchester County Department of Laboratories and Research worked the cases for years. Evidence was collected at each of the scenes, and the three murders were linked—the work of a serial killer. A DNA profile from the crime scenes was entered into the Databank in 2002; seven years later, authorities in Westchester County were notified of a match after Francisco Acevedo, a serial DWI offender, was required to provide a DNA sample as a condition imposed at a Parole hearing. That sample linked Acevedo to the unsolved murders, and in November 2011 a jury deliberated for less than five hours before finding him guilty of the three murders. He is now serving a prison sentence of 75 years to life for those crimes.
Taking a DNA sample is not an invasive process: convicted offenders rub the inside of their cheek with a swab. The New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center then converts that material into a numerical profile, unique to that offender. The profile is only used to match convicted offenders to evidence found at a crime scene, and link crimes that may involve the same perpetrator. The profile cannot be used for any other purpose because the DNA is extracted from locations on the strand that cannot identify the person’s race, appearance, health or behavior.
The New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center in Albany can process 10,000 DNA samples from convicted offenders a month. The Governor’s proposed expansion will bring the monthly total to less than 7,000 and will not create a backlog.
If enacted, the Governor’ proposal would take effect October 1, and it would not be retroactive. In addition, the proposal would not apply to children involved in Family Court matters or to youthful offenders.
New York State has launched an interactive website as part of the Governor’s campaign to build a new New York and keep residents informed about key state initiatives. For more information, visit www.NYGetInvolved.com and join the #DNAStopsCrime conversation.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., incoming President of the New York State District Attorneys Association, said, “I am pleased that Governor Cuomo has made post-conviction DNA collection for all crimes a legislative priority this year. DNA testing is one of the most reliable and cost-effective tools that we have in law enforcement. Just last month, DNA technology enabled our Office to charge a man with the murder of a mother of nine, a case that went unsolved for 13 years. I urge our state lawmakers to expedite the passage of the All-Crimes DNA Bill, which will enable us to not only prosecute and but also prevent countless crimes. The time to act is now.”
Michael Polenberg and Susan Xenarios, Co-Chairs of the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims, a consortium of more than 90 victim advocates, service providers, prosecutors and government agencies from New York City and the surrounding counties advocating for sensible legislation and sufficient resources for victims of crime, said, “On behalf of the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims, we applaud the Governor for taking every possible step to protect New Yorkers from violent crime and abuse. Governor Cuomo’s proposal to expand the State’s DNA Databank is a common-sense measure that will keep communities across the State safe, and we call on the Assembly to pass this sound proposal into law.”
Mariska Hargitay, Founder and President of the Joyful Heart Foundation, said, “At the Joyful Heart Foundation, we have witnessed the healing power that justice can bring to survivors of sexual violence. Expanding the DNA Databank to include samples from offenders convicted of all felony crimes and every Penal Law misdemeanor will ensure that more perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes, thousands of New Yorkers are spared the trauma of violence and survivors receive the justice they deserve. We urge the New York State Assembly to join the Senate and Governor Cuomo in the movement to use DNA to its fullest potential.”
Ariel Zwang, Chief Executive Officer of Safe Horizon in New York City, the nation’s leading victims services organization, said, “For many of our clients, an important part of the healing process is knowing that the person who harmed them has been brought to justice and that the right person has been convicted. The proposal to expand the DNA Databank is a powerful tool in finding justice for survivors of crime, and in preventing our family members, friends and neighbors from experiencing violence. On behalf of the 250,000 victims of crime and abuse whom we support each year, I applaud the Governor for his leadership, and I urge the legislature to vote to expand New York’s DNA Databank. “
Karen Cheeks-Lomax, Executive Director of My Sisters’ Place in White Plains, said, “For over 35 years, My Sisters’ Place has worked on behalf of victims of domestic violence. For our clients, knowing that their abuser has been fairly and decisively convicted of their crimes is an important step in their healing process and their move toward a life free from abuse. The all-crimes DNA bill will allow for DNA to be used as another tool to support victims and prosecute perpetrators and hence stop the cycle of violence for generations to come. On behalf of all those we serve, thank you to Governor Cuomo and our esteemed legislators for your pursuit of justice.”
Laurel Eisner, Executive Director, Sanctuary for Families in New York City, said, “This proposal will add to the security and safety of victims of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault by facilitating the identification and prosecution of those who have previously been convicted of felony and misdemeanor offenses.”
CarlLa Horton, Executive Director of Hope’s Door in Pleasantville (Westchester County), said, “Hopes Door supports the DNA Databank expansion, as it will provide law enforcement with additional forensic tools to prosecute convicted serial offenders and will help to exonerate the innocent.”
Chris O’Brien, Executive Director of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association Institute, Inc., the organization that administers both the VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) Program and the Order of Protection Notification Program, said, “DNA is a tool that has proven to be extremely valuable in the arrest and prosecution of domestic violence cases. Expanding the DNA Databank will only make this tool more effective and will increase the number of domestic violence cases that are brought to successful prosecution.”
Jennifer Wormley, Coordinator of Harriet M. West Child Advocacy Center of Saratoga Springs, said, “It’s simple, when we know better we do better. Expanding the requirement to include all individuals convicted of a crime to submit a sample of their DNA for inclusion into the New York State DNA Databank will be beneficial to everyone. We have the technology available to assist in the investigation of crimes, we need to use it. We owe it to not only each and every victim, but to innocent individuals who are under suspicion as well.”
Tandra R. LaGrone, Executive Director of In Our Own Voices in Albany, said, “In Our Own Voices’ mission is promote the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender people of color. IOOV supports Governor Cuomo’s proposal to expand the state’s DNA Databank. The proposal has the ability to help lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender victims of crime throughout the state of New York.”
Ms. Michael Kennedy, Victim Service Leader with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), New York State Charter Office, said, “Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) works to support the victims of the 100 percent preventable crime of drunk driving. We support expansion of New York’s DNA Databank because it increases the possibility of justice and healing for victims, the development of safer communities and the likelihood that perpetrators will be held accountable for their behavior.”
Patricia Gioia, a member of the Albany/Capital Region Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children (POMC), said, “Parents of Murdered Children consists of families who have had a loved one murdered. In some instances, the offender may have committed other crimes prior to the murder. This proposed legislation would not only help to pinpoint such persons and prevent other serious crimes, but could serve to exonerate those who are innocent.”
Raini Baudendistel, Executive Director of the Crime Victim Assistance Center in Binghamton, said, “This DNA initiative will serve multiple purposes: It’s another tool for law enforcement to utilize when working to hold offenders accountable and thwart future crime and criminal activity; it’s tangible progress in the field of victim advocacy; and it will aid victims and their families in their pursuit of closure, personal healing, and justice.”
Susan B. Kelley, Program Director of STOP Domestic Violence/Behavioral Health Services North, which serves Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties, said, “After listening to victims of crime for many years, I have understood that most people want to stop fearing that the criminal will continue to commit more crimes. When DNA information becomes easily accessible to law enforcement it will be one more step in holding perpetrators accountable.”
Amanda Thomas, Coordinator of Volunteer Victim Advocates and Outreach Services for the REACH Center/Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties, Inc., said, “The expansion of the DNA Databank is a step in the right direction to support the healing and recovery of crime victims in New York. By obtaining DNA earlier from convicted offenders, the system may be able to reduce or prevent escalations in violence. Too often, crime victims are unable to have DNA evidence matched to their offender(s) in a timely manner because of the limited supply of offender DNA available. This expansion supports victims and survivors in the positive identification of their offender(s), while increasing public safety within our communities.”
Joan Crawford, Deputy Executive Director of Family Services, Inc. in Poughkeepsie, said, “At Family Services, we are committed to assisting those who have been victimized by crime and supporting survivors to rebuild their lives while at the same time advancing progress in preventing crimes. We support the Governor’s all-crimes DNA proposal because we believe it will assist in the prevention of future crimes, hold offenders accountable and provide justice for victims and survivors.”
Karen Ziegler, director of the Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center in Albany, said, “Expanding the DNA Databank will improve victim safety while holding offenders accountable. Many violent offenders commit lesser crimes and DNA will help to identify and prosecute them, making communities safer.”
Marla Behler, Program Coordinator of the Child Advocacy Center of Putnam County, said, “The Child Advocacy of Putnam County stands behind the Governor’s proposal to expand New York’s DNA Databank. Every six minutes in our country, a child is sexually abused. Children cannot be responsible for protecting themselves against abuse. Throughout New York State, teams of professionals work tirelessly to build a case strong enough to spare a child from having to testify in the presence of their offender. Not only will this tool help prevent a child from being re-victimized by the judicial system; it will help to hold offenders accountable, and protect potential victims.”
Ellen Schell, Counsel, The Legal Project, said, “Expanding the DNA Databank in this way will make possible more successful prosecutions of crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault, which will benefit our clients and our communities.”
Michele McKeon, Chief Executive Officer of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said, “NYSCADV is proud to stand with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to support the expansion of the DNA Databank. We believe that by holding offenders accountable and in this case, taking a sample of their DNA after conviction, it will increase safety for victims, and give law enforcement an additional tool to identify offenders who may repeat crimes, solve those that remain unsolved and exonerate those who may have been wrongly convicted.”
Mary Carpenter, Program Director of Domestic Violence and Crime Victims Services of Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, said, “Montgomery County Domestic Violence and Crime Victim Services fully supports Governor Cuomo’s proposal to expand the DNA Databank in New York State. Many times victims of domestic violence feel re-victimized during trial proceedings. Our hope, with this new expansion, is that the strength of this additional evidence will lead to earlier dispositions of cases, reducing the need for victim testimony.”
Kellyann Kostyal, Executive Director of Safe Homes of Orange County, said, “Safe Homes is grateful to the Governor for his proposal to expand the DNA Databank. So often, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are unable to seek justice. The expansion of the databank will include misdemeanor crimes which will provide the criminal justice system a greater capability to hold more offenders accountable and protect the innocent. I am honored to join my colleagues across New York in supporting this life-saving proposal.”
Maggie Fronk, Executive Director of Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County, said, “The proposed All Crimes DNA legislation can save lives. DNA evidence can identify offenders and prevent future crimes. We have the technology to make our communities safer.”
Milinda J. Reed, Esq., Service Director, Domestic Violence Services at Unity House of Troy, said, “Expansion of the DNA Databank will provide an invaluable tool for the prosecution of domestic and sexual violence cases and other crimes. Because domestic and sexual violence offenders often have a history of lower level crimes preceding more serious assaults and homicides, the availability of DNA will allow police and prosecutors to solve these serious and tragic cases more quickly and efficiently. Crime victims deserve to have the full scope of forensic evidence collection procedures available so that perpetrators of these heinous crimes can be brought to justice as expeditiously as possible. This important legislation will do just that, and I encourage legislators around the State to lend their support to this bill’s passage.”
Alyscia McDermott, Program Director, Mechanicville Domestic Violence Advocacy Program, said, “I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking this important step in mitigating and solving crimes, and further protecting victims. An expanded DNA Databank facilitates the solving of both current and past crimes, and is also a vital component in stopping domestic abuse; it is a tool with which law enforcement can definitively check an accused assailant’s otherwise hidden history, and in so doing, help save lives.”
Capital Region Attorney Frederick Rench, lawyer for a man wrongly accused in the murders of Arica Schneider and Samuel Holley, said, “For me this is no longer an abstraction. I watched as the lives of two men were nearly destroyed while our DNA Databank was working at a fraction of its capacity. I realize that although the expansion of the Databank will result in more convictions, it will also result in the exoneration of innocent men and innocent women. We have a moral responsibility to expand the Databank.”
Ann M., whose daughter is a rape survivor, said, “I have written letters regarding the expansion of the DNA Databank for more than 10 years and, quite frankly, I find it appalling that this conversation is still going on. How many more serial rapists are you willing to allow to roam the streets of New York, for no other reason than that all misdemeanors are not part of the DNA Databank? Just one criminal allowed to remain free is capable of committing numerous crimes – multiply this by the amount of crimes committed each year and it’s easy to see that the passage of this legislation has the potential to save thousands the heartache my family endured. I beg the Legislature to do the right thing and the public to urge them to pass this expansion. The family you save might just be your own.”
Robin Ritrovato, whose daughter, Arica Schneider, was murdered in Troy in 2002, said, “I cannot fathom the horror, fear and traumatic pain my daughter must have endured when Michael Mosley horrendously took her life. Nothing could prepare us for the facts that were presented by the trial. The 9 ? years of mental and physical torment, the grueling anguish and the invasion that many of her family members had endured and still experience could have been lessened if the DNA law had included all crimes.”
Arica’s father, Paul Schneider, said, “In 2002 our family lost our daughter to a very violent homicide. From the very beginning, DNA, blood and a handprint were secured as evidence. For years our family went on wondering, praying if anyone would ever be held responsible. Years later, two men, Terrence Battiste and Bryan Berry were arrested and charged for the crime because of informant testimony. One week before these men were to go to trial and face life in prison, there was a hit in the DNA Databank and we learned that a man from Averill Park named Michael Mosley could in fact be our daughter’s killer, not Mr. Berry and Mr. Battiste. If our daughter’s killer had been made to give his DNA years earlier we could have had closure, and two innocent men and their families would not have had to go through what they did.”
Amy B. of Schenectady, who was the victim of a violent home invasion, said, “Two men wearing masks entered my home and one held me by my hair with a gun to my head. Because I couldn’t see their faces I was only able to give the police a generic description. It was through DNA left at the scene when the man cut his hand that identified him as one of the individuals who terrorized my home. It was through DNA that put a name to a monster. It was through DNA that allowed my child to sleep more peacefully at night, a job that I couldn’t even do. Science linked him to the crime in a way that I couldn’t, and it was an important piece of evidence that the jury used to convict him. DNA doesn’t lie.”
Nancy Green said, “After being raped, I was unable to give police the details that could have led to my attacker’s arrest. DNA technology has the ability to prevent more New Yorkers from ever becoming crime victims. It’s an easy fix to a complex problem – and how often in life can we say that we can do that?”
Art Mason, Director of the Elder Abuse Prevention Program at Lifespan in Rochester, said, “As a direct service provider for elderly victims of abuse, neglect, exploitation and domestic violence in later life, we support the Governor’s proposed enhancement of the DNA Databank legislation. This legislation would help us to help our victims who require expedited identification of their abusers and the legal process of their cases. Due to their advanced age, there is a real possibility that the victim may die before the abuser/perpetrator would come to trial and therefore anything that would speed resolution to these cases is welcome.”