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Yearlong wait for DNA testing results frustrates Utah judge, who threatens to put a crime lab employee in jail

First Published      Last Updated Nov 28 2016 09:42 am

Courts » Defendant sits in jail as sex-assault case languishes for lack of DNA results.

A Utah judge frustrated over a lack of DNA results from the state crime lab said if the results aren't complete by next month, he'll put a crime lab employee behind bars.

Christopher Lee Monson has been in jail for the past 13 months, after prosecutors in Davis County charged him with rape and attempted kidnapping in connection with an alleged assault of his ex-girlfriend last October.

A seven-day trial had been scheduled for next month, but Monson's attorney, Mary Corporon, told 2nd District Judge Thomas Kay in a mid-November hearing that attorneys still have not received the DNA results of a rape kit that was completed last year.

She told Kay that she doesn't know if the evidence will help or hurt Monson's defense — but said she can't go forward with the trial without the results, according to a recording of the court hearing.

Kay told attorneys he will sign an order demanding that someone from the state crime lab come to a Dec. 15 hearing and explain what has happened to the rape kit and where the results are.

"I've set this trial months and months and months [ago] and the defendant is in custody," the judge said, according to the recording. "This is ridiculous. … I want a human being here who is going to take some responsibility. It means he's going to, or she's going to, have [the results] or there's going to be some good reason that they are not going to jail."

Not unique • Corporon said Wednesday that her client's case is hardly unique. He is not the first defendant to sit in jail for months as trial dates are canceled because of a lack of DNA results — and she is not the only defense attorney who has encountered this.

"Over and over again, in cases in which sex crimes are alleged, the critical DNA evidence is not available for many months, or a year or more," she wrote in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune. "This impacts everyone in the system."

It impacts her clients, she said, as they remain in jail and cannot have a speedy trial. For those falsely accused, their cases languish for months or years as they wait for evidence that might exonerate them. It affects victims who are waiting for closure. And it impacts taxpayers who pay for lawyers and court staff to come to court time and time again to discuss where the evidence is.

"The problem is not that we humans don't know how to process DNA evidence," Corporon wrote. "The problem is the state of Utah will not allocate enough funds to hire enough qualified scientists and create enough state-of-the-art laboratories to process the quantity of evidence being collected. This is purely and simply an issue of not valuing the Bill of Rights, and victim's rights, enough to allocate the funds necessary to guarantee those rights."

Jay Henry, the state crime lab director, said last week that his staffers have an "exceptional caseload" right now. While in the past, they have received a few hundred rape kits a year to process, they recently have been receiving between 500 and 700 a year. That is in addition, he said, to a backlog of thousands of untested kits that the crime lab is still sorting through.

They have outsourced many of those kits to outside labs, Henry said, but the lab is still bogged down with so much work to do.

"Right now, our turnaround time isn't the best," he said. "We're at over a year right now [on average] with our turnaround time. We think we're starting to make improvement — I think we've gotten through the worst of it."

With new training and a new crime lab building that employees will move into next month, Henry said he hopes they can reduce that time to between 60 and 90 days. Because he did not have details about the DNA testing in Monson's case, Henry said he could not comment about that matter specifically.

He said the crime lab has seen an increase of work because, as technology gets better, police are submitting more and more cases for DNA testing.

"The kits have gotten better," he said. "We're getting better results with less sample. We're giving law enforcement what they've always wanted — they're solving crimes."

Looking forward • For Monson, who has been in the county jail in lieu of a $100,000 cash bail since Oct. 3, 2015, he will continue to wait.

At the November hearing, attorneys canceled his December trial date and reset it for early April.

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