Law enforcement leaders around Wisconsin say it’s “disturbing” that 12,000 DNA samples from convicted felons are missing from a state database. Attorney General JB Van Hollen announced the missing samples yesterday, after it was learned that the state lost a sample submitted by alleged Milwaukee serial killer Walter Ellis when he was in prison for another offense in 2001.
Prosecutors said it allowed Ellis to go free, and kill at least one other woman before he was arrested two weeks ago. He’s charged with killing seven prostitutes in Milwaukee since 1986. Van Hollen said his agency learned that an imposter provided Ellis’s DNA sample at the Oshkosh prison and a Crime Lab analyst never told anyone after finding that something was amiss. Since 2000, all convicted felons have been required to leave DNA samples.
The samples have provided evidence that not only solves crimes but frees those who were wrongly convicted.
State Justice official Gary Hamblen said many criminals got lost in the shuffle when the DNA sample law first took effect. Others never went to prison, and some authorities may not have thought it was important to get those samples. Hamblen is not sure how many felons are on the streets today who have not given their DNA but he’ll find out.
The omissions took place during the terms of three attorneys general; Van Hollen, Peg Lautenschlager, and now-Governor Jim Doyle. Van Hollen said he inherited the problem, and he did not suggest that anyone be held accountable.
But Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said heads must roll. He said, “Let’s go ask the victims of unsolved sexual assaults or other crimes if they feel anybody needs to be held accountable.”
At least two lawmakers, both from Milwaukee, have called for further action. State Representative Leon Young wants lawmakers to direct the Legislative Audit Bureau to probe the matter. State Senator Spencer Coggs wants a special DNA task force created to coordinate collection of the missing material.
Jason Fischer contributed to this report