AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – DNA evidence in dozens of sexual assault cases has been destroyed and could leave many of them unsolved. Police in Aurora have admitted that what has happened cannot be undone.
The DNA evidence in 48 sexual assault cases was accidentally destroyed. Aurora police admitted the error Tuesday night. Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates says it will cost some cases the ability to be prosecuted.
The department continues to look for where the breakdown occurred and how many more cases could be affected. The victims of the crimes are being notified — many who don’t even know their evidence is destroyed.
DNA is critical evidence that helps to convict criminals but also exonerate innocent people. Now because a few technicians and officers didn’t follow protocol, the DNA evidence is gone, including a case on the verge of filing charges. Oates personally met with that victim.
“I offered my apologies on behalf of the police department. It was a difficult meeting. She generous and gracious and understanding, a lot more understanding I think than I would have been under the circumstances,” Oates said. “Because of this destruction of evidence, her case is not likely to ever be prosecuted, which is obviously a very sad moment and a very painful moment.”
The mistake was found when a detective discovered physical DNA evidence in a 2009 sex assault case, now with a match, had been destroyed.
Oates says a panel of legal and law enforcement experts will now look into exactly what went wrong. Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler will begin telling victims.
“Simply tell them here’s the mistake made and here’s where that leaves us,” Brauchler said. “I don’t know that there’s anything that you can say … it’s a painful conversation to have.”
The Arapahoe and Adams county district attorneys will now determine which of the 48 cases they could prosecute even without the DNA, and which they can’t.
“We’ve been prosecuting sex assault cases long before we had access to DNA, and those tools still exist,” Brauchler said.
A public report on the investigation is expected to be ready for the public by Nov 1.
Oates says no other cases involving DNA evidence will be destroyed until a full evaluation of the errors is done.