The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced last week that House Bill (HB) 1399 assisted in the closure of more than 250 unsolved criminal investigations during its first year of implementation.
The law authorizes the collection of DNA samples from individuals charged with 24 qualifying felonies and compares the offender samples to existing crime scene DNA profiles in the nationwide Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database. The law, also known as the Krystal Jean Baker Act, went into effect on Sept. 1, 2019.
“The hard work of our crime lab employees and law enforcement officials is allowing us to make great strides in solving crimes faster, and in some cases, crimes that otherwise may never have been solved,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “Only a year after its passage, this law has become a valuable tool in getting criminals off our streets and bringing justice for victims and their families. We expect additional success as this process becomes an integral and vital part of the criminal justice landscape.”
Under HB 1399, law enforcement is not required to wait for a conviction to gather a DNA sample. Upon a person’s arrest for a qualifying felony, a cheek swab is collected and sent to the DPS lab to be entered into CODIS. The statute was passed during the 86th Texas Legislative Session and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.
“The purpose of this legislation was to help law enforcement identify perpetrators in unsolved cases,” said State Rep. Reggie Smith. “I am pleased to see such success in the first year since the legislation was implemented. I believe this legislation will continue to bring perpetrators of violent crimes to justice and provide for a safer Texas.”
The law is named for Krystal Jean Baker, a 13-year-old Texas City girl who was abducted, sexually assaulted and killed in 1996. DNA evidence was collected at the time of her death, but no arrests were made. In 2010, the perpetrator of Baker’s murder was arrested on an unrelated charge in Louisiana, and DNA taken at the time of his arrest linked him to Baker’s case. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to her murder in Chambers County.
- An arrest was made in the 17-year-old cold case strangulation of a 21-year-old woman in Lubbock County after the suspect was arrested earlier this year on an unrelated charge, and a DNA match was made to the homicide. He is also considered a suspect in a second homicide in the Lubbock area from 2004.
- A suspect arrested for an aggravated assault in 2019 in Tarrant County matched to a murder from 1994, more than 25 years after the crime — the oldest case assisted so far as the result of HB 1399.
- In three separate cases in Harris County, suspects were arrested on murder, prostitution and robbery charges, and the three suspects were tied to a total of six different unsolved sexual assaults in the county.
- Two separate suspects were arrested for sexual assault in Dallas County and were connected to two 2018 out-of-state cases of sexual assault in New York and Arkansas, respectively.
- A suspect in Bastrop County was arrested for assault and matched to nine vehicle crimes in South Carolina, which occurred during a four-day crime spree in 2012.
- The ability to acquire the DNA profile at arrest allows law enforcement to more quickly leverage the investigative power of the DNA database, even if it does not result in an immediate match. The offender’s DNA is entered into the database where it can be used to match future offenses. HB 1399 collections have already produced two DNA matches that fit this scenario. In one case, a suspect arrested in Dallas County for an aggravated assault in December 2019 was entered into the database. Even though there was not a match at the time, evidence from a February 2020 sexual assault in Ector County was later tied to the suspect through CODIS.
Breaking down the numbers
While many qualifying offenders arrested since HB 1399 went into effect were already in the CODIS database for other crimes, there have been 16,215 DNA samples from new offenders that were collected, analyzed and uploaded into the database for potential matches between Sept. 1, 2019, and Aug. 31, 2020.
The vast majority of HB 1399 offender-to-case matches (236) were from unsolved crimes in Texas, with the remainder related to criminal activity in South Carolina, New York, Arkansas, Idaho, Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
|Top Five Qualifying Offenses at Arrest Involved in DNA match||Top Five Investigations Aided|
|Sexual Assault||21||Sexual Assault of a Child||9|
Most of the investigations aided by HB 1399 (78%) involved crimes that occurred in the same county or a bordering county relative to where the offender was arrested, and 85 percent solved a different criminal offense than the qualifying crime they were arrested for.
The counties with the highest number of offender DNA samples that resulted in database matches in the first year were Harris (78), Dallas (47), Tarrant (20), Travis (18) and Fort Bend (11), while the top five counties where new case matches took place were Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Travis and Montgomery counties.