Lawmaker wants to expand Oklahoma's DNA database; opponent concerned proposal goes too far

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OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma lawmaker's proposal to require people arrested on felony charges to provide a DNA sample to law enforcement authorities ran into opposition Tuesday from a House colleague who said he believes it goes too far.

Supporters of the proposal by Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, made presentations before the House Public Safety Committee during a legislative study that Denney said she requested after three previous attempts to expand the database failed.

But Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, described the study as a one-sided presentation by advocates who he said overlooked the possible legal consequences of taking DNA samples from individuals who have been accused but not convicted of a crime.

"I am afraid of giving up my freedoms," McPeak said. "This is going to take it away. It's really not fair."

All states require DNA from people convicted of a serious felony, but 28 states and the federal government take DNA samples from at least some arrestees. In Oklahoma, defendants convicted of certain felonies and misdemeanors e are already required to provide DNA samples to determine if they can be linked to unsolved crimes.

Denney wants authorities to be able to secure DNA samples earlier in the criminal justice process, even before charges are filed.

McPeak says he favors obtaining DNA samples after a judge rules there is probable cause and a defendant is ordered to stand trial.

Denney's attempts to expand the database have been inspired by the case of Jewel "Juli" Busken, a University of Oklahoma ballet student from Benton, Arkansas, who was raped and murdered in 1996. Busken disappeared from her Norman apartment complex and was later found dead on the shore of Lake Stanley Draper in far southeast Oklahoma City.

Busken's case went unsolved until 2004, when forensic examiners matched DNA from semen stains found on Busken's clothing to Anthony Castillo Sanchez, who was imprisoned on a burglary conviction. Sanchez was convicted of first-degree murder, rape and sodomy and sentenced to death in 2006.

Cleveland County Sheriff Joe Lester, who helped investigate Buskin's death, said Sanchez had been accused of unrelated felony crimes before he was linked to Buskin's death and could have been identified sooner if DNA samples were required at the time of arrest.

"I think it will be a tremendous tool for law enforcement," Lester said.

Andrea Swiech, division director of criminalistics at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, said DNA testing can not only link suspects to unsolved crimes but also exonerate others.

Swiech said DNA evidence is routinely used to exclude suspects during investigations and sometimes overturns cases in which people have been wrongfully convicted, such as Thomas Webb, who was released from an Oklahoma prison in May 1996 after serving 14 years for a rape that DNA testing proved he did not commit.

Swiech said expanding Oklahoma's DNA database would involve an additional 32,800 DNA tests each year and require an additional $1 million in funding in the first year the database is expanded for additional equipment and personnel at OSBI.

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