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New Maryland law protects decades-old DNA evidence

New Maryland law protects decades-old DNA evidence
New Maryland law protects decades-old DNA evidence 03:20

TOWSON -- Before DNA profiling existed, a doctor trained as a forensic pathologist had the foresight to preserve physical evidence from incidents of sexual violence on microscope slides. 

The late Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker worked at Greater Baltimore Medical Center when he began the collection of DNA evidence during the 1970s into the 1990s when standardized Sexual Assault Forensic Exam or 'SAFE' kits emerged.

Decades later, the trove of samples will now be given the same protections as the modern-day kits under a new Maryland law that goes into effect on Sunday, Oct. 1.

The new law mandates evidence from a sexual assault exam be stored for 75 years from the date of collection, an increase from the current requirement of 20 years. It also requires the microscope slides be transferred to a law enforcement agency for testing.

"It puts those protections in place," said state senator Shelly Hettleman, who sponsored the legislation. "It makes sure that they are treated like rape kits, that they can't be thrown away and that they will be transferred, eventually, to law enforcement and that they'll be tested."

The Baltimore County Police Department is working with GBMC on a plan to transfer the evidence. Before the possession of the slides changes hands, there's an ongoing process to catalogue the evidence, which includes determining how many slides exist per case. 

This data will aid in securing funds to test the remaining slides and a lab to commit to the workload, explained Cpt. Brian Edwards.

"It's an administratively heavy task but it can't be broken down. It has to be 100 percent accurate for these to stand up through prosecution," Cpt. Edwards said. "Hopefully, a lot of results come back but that creates a lot of work in the forensics lab to verify those results and interpret them, a lot of work that has to be done by the detectives to determine what does that mean for this case? There's no simple process."

The department has tapped into the trove of evidence off and on over the years through a subpoena process because currently, the slides are considered medical records through the hospital.

Detectives with the BCPD SVU Cold Case division pour over old police reports and search for a match to any potential pathology samples. 

Most recently, evidence from a set of microscope slides helped link a suspected serial rapist to five attacks in Cockeysville between 1978 to 1986.

"Nobody across the country had dealt with anything like this. We still haven't found anybody that's had any evidence like this and so, there was a lot of learning curves to figure out what to do," said Cpt. Edwards. 

If you believe you may be a survivor of sexual violence connected to the slide collection at GBMC, you may contact BCPD or a victim's advocate. 

"For the victims and survivors of sexual assault or any violent crime, we don't forget," said Cpt. Edwards. 

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