Originally created 08/31/02

Expanded database led to match



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With no history of sexual or violent convictions, Robert F. Atkins might never have been tapped as a suspect for the slaying of Aiken teenager Jessica Carpenter.

But the same year 17-year-old Jessica was stabbed and strangled to death in her home, a new Georgia law went into effect that required DNA samples from every prison inmate, regardless of the nature of his crime, be added to a state database. Before, only DNA from convicted sex offenders went into the state's database.

"We got hits, but nothing like when we started this testing of all inmates," Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said.

So far, as of Aug. 1, 144 suspects have been identified because of the new law, he said. Only one of the past 10 inmates named as rape suspects because of DNA testing was serving time for a sexual assault, Mr. Bankhead said.

"That tells us that you need to expand (DNA testing) to all prisoners," he said.

It took time to get the equipment and process set up to take the samples from inmates and to do the DNA testing. Inmates coming into the prison and those leaving are the first to be tested, and there are plans to have every inmate tested, Mr. Bankhead said.

Mr. Atkins' DNA was linked to Jessica's Aug. 4, 2000, slaying through the national DNA database. The FBI and state law enforcement agencies can access and compare known and unknown DNA samples electronically by using the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).

As in Jessica's case, CODIS has helped officers throughout the country in 4,943 investigations, according to the most recent FBI count through June. The system has been running since October 1998.

Mr. Atkins returned to a Georgia prison in May for violating probation in a theft-related case. Two weeks ago, his DNA sample went into CODIS, and within days, South Carolina investigators found a match to DNA evidence found at Jessica's home.

The match in Jessica's case will bring Georgia's total hits on CODIS to 31, Mr. Bankhead said.

According to the FBI, Georgia has built its database to 47,578 profiles, and it has provided evidence in 244 cases. South Carolina, with a much smaller database of 1,658 profiles, has gotten help on seven investigations. In comparison, Virginia - one of the first states to embrace DNA testing - has a database with 103,997 profiles and so far has gotten help on 873 investigations, according to FBI statistics.

Mr. Bankhead said the DNA database has proved itself to be a powerful tool for law enforcement. In January, the GBI announced a suspect in a previously unsolved Coweta County double homicide. On the 12th anniversary of the slayings of father and son Joe and George Rainwater, agents announced the DNA database had matched an inmate to a cigarette butt left at the scene of the homicide, Mr. Bankhead said.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.