NEW ORLEANS -- Two years ago the NOPD had a backlog of 800 rape kits that had not been tested for DNA evidence, but today so many old cases are being solved that a whole new detective squad has been launched.
Last week, Reginald Berry pleaded guilty to a 1993 rape, agreeing to a 22-year sentence. He almost got away with the crime, but a DNA match using a national database reopened the nearly 20-year-old case.
In another New Orleans case, Melvin Jones last week was booked with aggravated rape when DNA from the 1998 crime scene matched his profile in the database.
"That is the type of person we'd like to take off the street,” said NOPD Special Victims Commander Lt. Louis Gaydosh. “That's all a result of our teamwork with the State Police."
Gaydosh said his detectives are increasingly reaching back in time to solve old cases, thanks to high-tech forensics.
"It's science working with police. And we try to take advantage of all the technology that is out there that we can access to recover any kind of evidence we can."
The department is getting so many hits on old cases that it created a new, full-time squad to deal them.
This flow of scientific evidence in these old rape cases is producing results. Since the cold case rape squad was launched in March, 13 cases have been investigated and six have been cleared by DNA evidence.
But there are delicate issues in re-opening old rape cases. As Mary Claire Landry of the New Orleans Family Justice Center explains, victims need to be brought into the process early for counseling as detectives open old wounds.
"When we're calling and informing victims that they're going back 20 years, they might not even be from New Orleans,” Landry said. “They may have been a visitor to the city. They may have moved. They may be in a whole different area. They're certainly going to be at a whole different place in their life."
But with the right safeguards in place, Landry and others say no case is too old to seek justice.
The DNA matches are not just restricted to old rape cases. So far this year, the NOPD has received notice of 107 DNA matches in cases ranging from burglary to homicide.