Battling for New Orleans: How rapid DNA testing could prevent future crimes

Updated: Feb. 15, 2023 at 10:09 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New technology could soon be available in New Orleans that can quickly link suspects to unsolved crimes where matching DNA evidence was collected.

In 2016, a woman was violently attacked and raped while she jogged on the levee in Algiers. DNA evidence was collected and entered into CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System, a computer software program that operates local, state, and national databases of DNA profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence, and missing persons.

Two years later, another woman attacked and raped in Algiers. DNA evidence was again collected.

Louisiana State Police linked the DNA to both rapes, confirming the same suspect committed both crimes, but it was unclear who that person was.

DNA generic
DNA generic(WILX)

In 2020, police arrested Navarri Henderson for allegedly beating his pregnant girlfriend and knocking her conscious.

While he was being booked, New Orleans police collected Henderson’s DNA and sent it off to the state police crime lab.

It took months to get the results and before investigators knew Henderson’s DNA was linked to two previous rape cases, he had already bonded out of jail and left Louisiana.

U.S. Marshals eventually tracked Henderson down in Mississippi and extradited him back to New Orleans.

“I’m getting stats from NOPD but they say it is frequent,” New Orleans Council Vice President Helena Moreno says. “They come back with a CODIS hit and they’re like ‘oh my gosh we had this guy and now he’s gone.’”


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LSP became the first agency in the country to get FBI approval to oversee a rapid DNA testing program. LSP rolled out its pilot program to use rapid DNA testing technology at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

Rapid DNA testing happens at the booking station just after an individual is arrested.

Millions of dollars are headed to Baton Rouge to try and help process DNA evidence quicker.
Millions of dollars are headed to Baton Rouge to try and help process DNA evidence quicker.(WAFB)

“We can collect upon arrest, put that into the instrument, and within 90 minutes the DNA database of unsolved crimes can be searched and a hit generated right there while the individual is in custody,” said Joanie Brocato.

Brocato served at the LSP Crime Lab for over 20 years as the DNA manager for forensic casework and CODIS. She is now the Clinical Lab Science department head at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.

“Imagine having the capability within 90 minutes knowing that you have a CODIS hit and knowing ‘oh my god this was the guy we were looking for the murder on whatever street,’” Moreno said. “Now, you can have NOPD alerted. NOPD can come. An offender can be questioned and you already have him.”

“I think this will be such an essential tool,” Moreno said. “When they book people, they’re already required to swab them for DNA but what they’re doing unlike any other jurisdiction in the state, is that at the sheriff’s office, they are doing the DNA test to see if there’s a CODIS hit.”

“The cartridge is placed into an instrument and the process happens,” Brocato explains. “And within 90 minutes, we will get a hit confirmation whether the arrestee is going to hit to an unsolved crime or not.”

Brocato says rapid testing is getting results at the EBR booking facility.

“I think it really looks promising,” she said. “They got several hits really quickly. Some were within the state but even some were from another state so it shows you the ability to link crimes across the whole country.”

In 2022, LSP committed to selecting four booking agencies to provide the new testing. East Baton Rouge was selected first, followed by Livingston and Ascension, and now LSP is considering Orleans Parish for the fourth spot.

“I think could be a true game-changer,” Moreno said.

Bocato says getting DNA results while the suspect remains in custody will prevent future crimes and protect law enforcement from putting their lives in danger having to search for suspects.

“To be able to have this type of hit in that short amount of time and not have to wait weeks, months for those hits to occur,” Brocato said. “It’s critically important to our victims and to our community.”

“We have to just act now,” Moreno said. “I can’t just wait around for somebody else to get chosen and wait for another round of parishes to be in the group. It’s like, I want it now.”

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