Governor JB Pritzker, Illinois State Police announce action on DNA testing delays

CHICAGO (WLS) -- New action was announced Wednesday to reduce DNA evidence that's sitting unchecked.

Consumer Investigative Reporter Jason Knowles and the ABC 7 I-Team broke the story of hundreds of murder case delays at Illinois crime labs. Now Governor JB Pritzker along with the state police are making major overhauls.

After the 2018 I-Team investigation, angry Illinois legislators held a public hearing. Illinois State Police Lab officials told lawmakers that the total forensic backlog of all types of crimes was close to 14,000 and more than 3,600 of those cases are DNA-related.

Governor Pritzker and the state police announced changes to address their backlog, which includes more than 750 Chicago murder cases that have been stalled at state labs over the past three years, awaiting DNA analysis.

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New action was announced Wednesday to reduce DNA evidence that's sitting unchecked.

What's new? An increase in staff including a recently hired Assistant Deputy Director of Forensic Services, six Forensic Scientist Trainees and by the end of 2019, another 10.

The labs will conduct regular staff accountability meetings, and there's a plan to strengthen relationships with all law enforcement partners. There are technological improvements coming including data collection, and the forensic processing system will be updated. The state will also implement rapid DNA testing as soon as possible.

Rapid DNA is a faster DNA testing process which can show results in less than 2 hours. The I -Team told you about legislation which would require Rapid DNA at the ISP last week.

RELATED: New bill could force Illinois State Police to rapid DNA testing to solve backlog

"My sister had been beat, she had been strangled and she had been raped and we couldn't even identify her," said Shirley Burgess, who contacted the I-Team after seeing their first report.

Her sister Sheila was brutally raped and murdered on the south side in November of 2017. Sixteen months later, Chicago police are still waiting for DNA analysis to be processed at a state crime lab.

"Why have DNA when nobody is going to test it and nobody is going to solve these murders, why have it?" Shirley wondered.

"It's a lot of cases out here that haven been solved because of the DNA they just sitting on it, they're not helping no one out," said Anivea Burgess, Sheila Burgess's daughter. "My family is suffering from this."

"The DNA will solve this murder case for my sister Shelia Burgess." Shirley Burgess told the I-Team. "It will and I know it will."

The Burgess family said they are happy to hear about the planned improvements and said they hope this means justice for Sheila.

The I-Team reached out to the Illinois State Police about Burgess's case. Authorities declined to comment.

Governor Pritzker said fixing "unacceptable forensic backlogs is a top priority."

The I-Team will continue to follow the story and bring updates.
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