The police department in a Colorado town has accidentally destroyed DNA evidence from 48 sexual assault cases in what is being called a “grievous mistake.”
Aurora, Colo., Police Chief Dan Oates said one of the cases, in which the evidence had identified a suspect whose arrest had been imminent, had to be dropped. Prosecutors and Oates met with the victim to explain what had happened and to apologize.
According to Oates, the victim was "gracious and understanding. More understanding than I would have been in that situation. Obviously this is not a good day for the department. This is a big mistake."
It is unclear how the DNA destruction will alter other cases, but it has the potential to be a huge problem for police and prosecutors, The Daily Caller reported.
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“The prosecution needs this evidence if they’re going to convict people that have done something wrong,” said attorney Dan Recht. “They need this evidence so that wrongfully accused people don’t get convicted.”
An expert panel will review the matter and make findings and recommendations to the APD.
"We are participating in an independent task force that will individually review the cases potentially affected by these evidentiary issues," said district attorney George Brauchler.
Oates said the accidental destruction of case evidence from 2009 occurred because of a “system breakdown.” It is believed that evidence in 30 of the cases was unintentionally destroyed by a single officer. Oates believes improper training may be an issue.
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"We will do all that we should to fix this problem," he said. "No one — including that officer — intended this outcome. It was a mistake."
The evidence in Aurora’s most famous case, the theater shooting perpetrated by convicted killer Nathan Dunlap, was not affected.