MADISON (WKOW) -- What a difference a year can make. A $500,000 federal grant given to the Wisconsin Department of Justice a year ago is paying off in a big way.
The money allowed the D.O.J. to hire retired homicide investigators to focus solely on cold cases. The grant also funded overtime within the crime lab, and gave Milwaukee Police $100,000 to work on cold cases within the city.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says, "You've never gotten away with a crime. There's always a chance we can find out who you are, and you can pay the ultimate price for having committed that crime."
Half a million dollars can go a long way. It's paying for DNA analysts to work overtime in the crime lab on cold cases. Mix that with innovations in DNA testing, you've got a sweet concoction.
Marie Varriale, the Forensic Scientist Supervisor at the State Crime Lab, says, "We are very sensitive, and we are very specific right now. We can look at a pinpoint blood stain, and attribute that to one person. That's probably as good as it's going to get."
Investigations start way before samples get to the lab. Three new investigators are cracking leads, re-interviewing witnesses, and working with local departments.
Madison State Crime Lab Director Jerome Geurts says, "That evidence can deteriorate, and it can disappear, and people actually have to go back to see if there is evidence, how it's been preserved, how it's been handled, and where it is now."
Those investigators work with scientists to find stains, create a DNA profile, and perhaps, find a match.
The success of the state crime lab led to a 24-percent increase in submissions. They'd previously estimated submissions would increase by only half that.
Van Hollen adds, "Ultimately the reason we go after criminals is because they have created victims. We're making sure victims and victims family's can see, that we will not give up."
According to Wisconsin State Statutes, forensic scientists aren't allowed any police power. They stick to the science part, and work with investigators as their departments generate leads.
A previous federal grant helped the D.O.J. generate four convictions.
Here's a small list of a few of the charges or convictions this grant money aided with so far:
This weekend, Milwaukee police identified the man they believe is behind the slayings of nine women - dating back more than 20 years.
In July, detectives arrested Edward Edwards in Louisville, Kentucky. DNA testing matches him to the nearly 30-year-old murders of two high-school-sweethearts from Jefferson County.
From the Department of Justice's website:
RECENT COLD CASES IN WISCONSIN INVESTIGATED BY THE WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Leesa Jo Shaner
Leesa Jo Shaner was a young mother of two and the daughter of an FBI agent. On May 29, 1973 she went to the Tucson airport to meet her husband who was returning from an overseas military assignment. She was never seen alive again. Her body was discovered four months later outside an army post in Southern Arizona. Court records recently filed in Milwaukee indicate that a prisoner in Wisconsin might have been involved in Leesa Jo Shaner's murder. That prisoner, William Floyd Zamastil, is being held at the Waupun Correctional Institution, currently serving a life sentence for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a woman in Wisconsin.
Dawn Brossard disappeared in October, 1997 and was reported missing after failing to show up for work at the State Financial Bank of Waterford in Burlington. On July 11, 2003 recreational divers found her body in Geneva Lake. Following a cold case investigation in cooperation with local authorities, Dawn's husband David was recently charged in her death.
Lynnea L. Gran
On August 9, 1986, officers responded to Les' Grocery Store in Superior. Upon arrival at the scene, officers found Roger A. Gran outside of the grocery store in a hysterical state, advising that his mother, Lynnea Gran, was inside bleeding badly. Lynnea was an employee of the store. Officers entered the store and discovered that Lynnea was dead, having been severely beaten about the head.
During the summer and early fall of 2004, one of DOJ's cold case special agents reviewed the case. Blood stains and blood splatter were located on a jean jacket owned by Roger Gran. Crime Lab analysts were also able to identify the murder weapon, a hammer.
On October 20, 2006, Rodger Allen Gran was sentenced to 15 years state prison on charges of 2nd Degree Murder for the death of his mother Lynnea.
William G. Schipper
William Schipper was retired and living alone in the City of Manitowoc. When Schipper's wealthy sister passed away, she left him several hundred thousand dollars in her will. Despite receiving the large amount of money, Schipper stayed at his modest residence, living on the first floor and renting out the second.
Casimir (Casey) Leschke was familiar with Schipper's financial condition. Leschke was social with Schipper, and would run errands for him as wells as do odd jobs. In the late morning hours of December 21, 1994, Leschke went to a Manitowoc bar called "Ma's", where he met a local exotic dancer. Based on his relationship with Schipper, Leschke believed Schipper would pay for the exotic dancer to go to Schipper's house and perform. Leschke and the dancer came to Schipper's home and left. Detectives believe Leschke returned later with his friend, Jose Antonio Vega.
That night, a woman who lived in the apartment above Schipper's residence heard a chopping sound, along with Schipper's voice coming through the heat registers in her apartment. The neighbor did not find the chopping sounds unusual since Schipper often used a wood stove in his basement. Later that evening, however, the neighbor discovered Schipper's body in the basement. Schipper appeared to have been bludgeoned to death with a hammer.
Officers on the scene observed wood stacked in the basement and a large ash bucket used for burning wood. Schipper's head was slumped into the bucket. Also in the ash bucket was an empty booze bottle and a cigarette butt.
In the years that followed, tests performed by the Wisconsin State Crime Lab identified a fingerprint on the booze bottle as that of Jose Vega. DNA tests on the cigarette butt identified it as coming from Leschke.
This evidence, combined with Vega's denial of ever having been at Schipper's and witness testimony that placed men matching Vega and Leschke at the scene, led to the conviction of Jose Vega for first degree intentional homicide as party to a crime. On October 24, 2007 Manitowoc Circuit County Judge Darryl Deets sentenced Jose Vega to life in prison.
Suspects or Defendants identified in this press release who have not been tried are presumed innocent. The State bears the burden at trial of establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you're wondering about the previous backlog at the State Crime Lab, and how this money affects that, we've gathered some data. The State Crime Lab hired 30 new DNA analysts in 2007 to cut through some of that backlog, and as of August 2009, the lab only had 551 cases pending. That's down from January of 2008, when 1,805 cases awaited analysis.
Here's a release from the Department of Justice on that:
When AG Van Hollen took office, there were 1,785 pending DNA cases. In the two years before he took office, the number of pending DNA cases at the crime lab increased more than three-fold. In essence, for every case that was being worked, another was being added to the backlog.
As of the end of March 2009, there were 528 pending DNA cases. As the crime lab is now working more cases than it receives from law enforcement, the Crime Lab is closing in on achieving the Attorney General's goal of eliminating the DNA backlog.
A large part of the reason that Attorney General and the Crime Lab has been able to reduce the backlog is because of increased efficiency. Prior to Van Hollen taking office, the Crime Lab had never worked more than an average of 100 cases per month. In Van Hollen's first year-before any new analysts were trained to work cases (new analysts were trained and ready to assume a full caseload in June 2008, after completing a year long training module)-the Crime Lab averaged working over 165 DNA cases per month. In 2008, that number went up to over 365 DNA cases per month. To put that into perspective, in 2008 the Crime Lab received almost 300 cases per month from law enforcement requesting work. This number has increased significantly as law enforcement now knows that they will get a prompt turnaround when they send a case into the crime lab for DNA analysis and cases will not be shelved. (In 2006, the Crime Lab received 185 cases per month).
These trends have continued this year. Through the first quarter, the Crime Lab has worked 1,165 DNA cases - more cases than were worked in all of 2006, the year before Van Hollen took office. That's an average of 388 per month. We received an average of 331 cases per month.
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