NEW ORLEANS - It was a crime that shocked the community. Dr. Brent Hachfeld, a Slidell optometrist in town for a bachelor party, was robbed and beaten to death in the French Quarter last fall. Two months later, police arrested Bobby Troy, now 20.
Investigators were able to positively place Troy at the scene through surprising DNA evidence, said New Orleans homicide detective Robert Bachelder.
Troy left skin cells in Hachfeld's jean pockets when he robbed him, said Bachelder.
It’s evidence that might not have been obtained several years ago.
“We changed the culture of the police department from crime scene investigation,” said New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas.
In the years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city's crime lab, DNA evidence from hundreds of crimes was left untouched.
But two years ago, the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab offered to partner with New Orleans police to test DNA evidence in the city's rape and murder cases.
“We saw this as an opportunity to help New Orleans, and it's been a great relationship to this point,” said Myles Robichaux, forensic DNA supervisor at the State Police Crime Lab.
And success in cases like Hachfeld's prompted the NOPD to expand that testing to home and auto burglaries.
“It's actually starting to take a foothold on the department, so I think the future is incredibly bright,” said Serpas.
Project Bloodwork is aimed at tackling nearly 300 cold burglary cases, part of a backlog from from 2005 to 2011. Since the project began last fall, NOPD has submitted 88 cases to the state crime lab; 86 have been completed. Eight-two have resulted in a DNA profile. Of those, nearly 80 percent have matched with a known offender.
There are 53 separate offenders, some of whom are linked to multiple cases, according to police statistics.
“We have about seven offenders that have cleared up multiple burglaries in peoples’ homes and business in the city of New Orleans that without Project Bloodwork, quite honestly, we'd have never known who they were,” said Serpas.
Since the project began, Robichaux and Serpas agree they are seeing a clear change in the way New Orleans police officers are processing crime scenes.
“What we're seeing is smarter, more relevant evidence,” said Robichaux.
And now, the NOPD is expanding its partnership with state police. This week it finalized a three year agreement to hire two lab technicians out of college who will be trained to process DNA evidence and will work exclusively on New Orleans cases in an effort to continue putting people like Bobby Troy behind bars.
According to Serpas, those lab techs will eventually be placed in New Orleans, once the city rebuilds its crime lab.
Serpas said plans are in the works to build the lab on what is now an empty parking lot near NOPD headquarters. It would also house NOPD’s property and evidence room, as well as the clerk of court’s evidence room.
Serpas hopes to break ground on the facility sometime next year.