Charleston’s Missing DNA

Image provided by Speckin Forensic Laboratories

Image provided by Speckin Forensic Laboratories

Hope Taylor

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     Many County Jails are not collecting DNA from arrestees, which is required by South Carolina law and has been for five years. South Carolina is one of 30 states with laws regarding the collection of DNA from people charged with certain crimes, ranging from all felonies to specified violent felonies such as murder and rape, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some jails took years to start collecting samples, and Charleston County hasn’t sent any since September. South Carolina law requires cheek swabs from any adults for a felony or any other crime punishable by at least five years in prison. It is also required for lesser offenses like eavesdropping, stalking and peeping. South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel calls the law one of the state’s most powerful tools for solving cases and protecting the public. “It’s mandatory. It’s not optional. It’s not voluntary,” Keel said.

    “They’re potentially letting somebody walk through their physical custody who could have committed one of these heinous crimes,” Maj. Todd Hughey, SLED’s crime lab director, told The Post and Courier.

    In 2016, then-63-year-old Isaiah Gadson Jr. was charged with attempted murder in Beaufort County. When tested, his DNA hit on evidence from a 36-year-old cold case. Gadson was subsequently arrested for shooting a teenage boy to death in 1980 and robbing and raping the girl with him; the charges are still pending. In addition, a man arrested in Greenville last year for brandishing a gun was later linked to the 2016 machete hacking death of two men in Seattle. These cases are one of many that illustrate why collecting DNA evidence is so important. 

   “It’s disappointing. It’s a tool for law enforcement, so why would they not do it? I can’t fathom why,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Tommy Pope. He’s a former solicitor who in 1993 prosecuted one of the state’s first death penalty cases using DNA evidence, five years before SLED began collecting DNA from prisons.  

We all need closure. Whether you are family of the victim or a casual acquaintance, collecting DNA can help bring you one step closer to justice.