Covington rapist’s guilty plea latest success story of St. Tammany crime lab’s DNA testing

Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 7:49 PM CDT
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COVINGTON, La. (WVUE) - A Covington man pleaded guilty in a rape case this week after DNA evidence proved he committed the crime. The case demonstrates the importance of DNA testing in solving crimes, at a time when some agencies are dealing with backlogs of untested evidence.

For more than 20 years, St. Tammany Parish taxpayers have paid a 3.3 mill property tax to fund a DNA lab to help law enforcement solve crime.

“We are one of the only agencies in Louisiana that works with sometimes no backlog at all,” said St. Tammany DNA analyst Erin Thomas.

While agencies like the New Orleans Police Department struggle with long waits getting evidence tested and returned by the Louisiana State Police crime lab in Baton Rouge, St. Tammany lab techs are able to work quickly.

That fast work helped change a not guilty plea to guilty in the case of James Michael Buckley, who was arrested two years ago for a rape in Covington.

“We are just happy to get someone like that off the street, who’s willing to do things like that,” said Lt. Kevin Collins of the Covington Police Department.

St. Tammany DNA experts said the evidence is often irrefutable. And in the Buckley case and others, it saved the victim from the trauma of having to testify in court.

“This must’ve been a huge relief for her. The bravery and courage it takes for someone to report this to law enforcement, my patients are heroes,” said sexual assault nurse examiner Ginesse Barrett.

DNA experts said genetic evidence also can help steer law enforcement in different directions, sometimes clearing suspects of involvement early in an investigation, so detectives know to look elsewhere.

At a time when many police agencies are dealing with officer shortages, they said DNA technology is a force-multiplier.

“It is definitely helpful to free them up. But our detectives are ready and willing to go to court and do whatever is necessary to get guys like that off the street,” said Lt. Collins.

The Jefferson Parish DNA lab is busy as well, with more than 1,500 samples processed last year. Jefferson Parish officials say the work being done there is unparalleled when it comes to solving crime.

Earlier this month, the NOPD said it had 670 DNA samples waiting to be processed through the State Police lab. The NOPD is building a new five-story crime lab on Gravier Street that eventually will allow the department to do its own DNA testing, though more equipment and sufficiently trained staff must be in place for the lab to seek accreditation.

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