Part two in the series of how evidence is really handled in this country.
Authorities across the country have lost, mishandled or destroyed tens of thousands of DNA samples since genetic fingerprinting revolutionized crime solving 20 years ago.
Evidence from cold cases goes misplaced across Colorado.
Delicate traces of human biology sit stuffed into pizza and fried-chicken boxes in rat-infested New Orleans evidence vaults.
And specimens are dumped by the truckload in Los Angeles, Houston and New York - sometimes soon after high-profile exonerations.
In a country whose prime-time TV lineup glorifies DNA forensics, many real-life evidence vaults are underfunded and mismanaged, struggling to keep up with technological advances and lagging behind most corner groceries
Facing real-world training and space challenges, even the best-intentioned clerks commonly toss DNA samples, especially from old cases, in what one expert calls the "sledge-o-matic approach to clearing out evidence rooms."
"You can't keep everything," said Arthur Morrell, Orleans Parish clerk of Criminal Court.
The Denver Post examined purges in 10 states and found that authorities destroyed biological evidence in nearly 6,000 rape and murder cases during the past decade, rendering them virtually unsolvable. Over the past three decades, the loss or destruction of DNA evidence in 28 states has undermined efforts by at least 141 prisoners to prove their innocence, The Post has found.
Given that federal and state governments don't track evidence destruction and law enforcers often cloak purges in secrecy, the toll certainly is much higher.
The truth is being trashed.
"It's like that, I guess. One man's garbage could be another man's salvation," said Shirley Clemons, whose fiancé, Willie Grimes, is unable to appeal his North Carolina rape conviction because a court clerk tossed his evidence.
The Denver Post