South Carolina DNA inmate database helping bring repeat offenders to justice

Those going to prison in South Carolina will find it harder to get away with other crimes they've committed due to a new South Carolina law which requires inmates to submit DNA samples for cross-referencing with DNA samples from crime scenes.

Just ask Damien Edwards. Already serving a 19-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter, he was linked to a two-year old unsolved rape case, using the DNA sample he submitted upon beginning his prison sentence. Last week, he was given a 40 year sentence - thirty for sexual assualt and ten for kidnapping - by 9th Circuit Judge Kristi Harrington.

Maite Murphy, Dorchester County magistrate and former First Circuit prosecutor, had praise for how this new system made a difference in this case:

This case is a perfect example of how the database program assisted the prosecution in being able to keep a violent offender behind bars and it also gave a victim closure and justice. It is also an effective mechanism that excludes potential suspects that have been wrongfully accused. The technology is a win/ win situation.
But it's not the only case where this database has helped bring repeat offenders to justice. In talking with 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett described it as "a very powerful tool", and pointed out that very little DNA evidence was required: "in one case, all it took was holding a pen to provide the DNA we needed to take the case to trial".

In 2008, Brackett prosecuted Phillip Watts for a series of robberies of Rock Hill businesses, some of which he attacked cashiers. Evidence provided from Watts' DNA sample allowed Brackett to take him back to court last year for more robberies by establishing Watts at the scene of the crime. Watts, who Brackett was concerned "was going to kill someone, just a matter of time" received seven consecutive life sentences.

Brackett said that this database has been used to break leads in a number of cases around the state, and that two other recent cases in which the inmate DNA database provided valuable leads were a rape-murder and a bank robbery.

With cases like this, it sounds like South Carolina prosecutors will be busy, and at least a few people behind bars will get to stay there a little longer.

Supplemental info ... a couple of videos of media coverage of the Watts trials:

News report of Phillip Watts' receiving the maximum 35 years' sentence
(Judge John Few, now Chief of the State Appeals Court, presiding)



Watts' confession read in court

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