Archive for Friday, October 3, 2003

Attorney General’s Office says KBI labs have improved

October 3, 2003


— The state Attorney General's Office says it has made sure that an evidence error at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation that delayed for 12 years the identification of a suspect in a McPherson County rape never happens again.

The Hays Daily News reported Thursday that a progress report from Atty. Gen. Phill Kline said the KBI had used an outside expert to audit lab procedures to "ensure accuracy and incorporate redundancy in procedures."

Kline's office ordered an audit of the KBI after it was revealed earlier this year that a blood sample had been mislabeled in October 1991.

"At the time the error in evidence handling was discovered, many steps had been taken since 1991 to assure this did not happen again," said Chad Bettes, a spokesman for Kline.

"By the time the error was discovered, the labs had become nationally certified labs. This requires that the standards be raised," he said.

The mistake was discovered in December when a new DNA sample taken from Douglas S. Belt after his arrest in a Wichita murder matched the blood evidence from the 1991 McPherson County rape as well as evidence in other rapes.

Larry Welch, director of the KBI, has said the error occurred at the bureau's Great Bend lab in central Kansas. An employee mismarked evidence from a second suspect as belonging to Belt. As a result, nobody was charged with the rape.

Belt is being held in Sedgwick County on a first-degree murder charge for the June 2002 death and decapitation of Lucille Gallegos, 43, at the Wichita apartment complex where she worked as a maid. Belt also is charged with several rapes in Kansas and with sexual assault in Illinois.

As part of Kline's audit, seven expert scientists from outside forensic labs have conducted external audits in all six sections of the KBI labs. Also, KBI section supervisors have conducted internal audits to determine compliance with quality assurance procedures.

The attorney general reported that 500 individual cases involving more than 5,500 items of evidence had been audited.

The audit is expected to be completed by November. Kline plans to make the findings public after a nationally recognized forensic science resource group reviews the audit.

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