19 Jun

Over the past months of monitoring the investigation into the death of Amber Spradlin, it has become apparent that it is time for the Kentucky Legislature to step up to the plate and fully fund the Kentucky State Police Labs and those who work tirelessly each day to analyze the thousands of pieces of evidence which are critical to the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system. This is especially true when it involves the processing of evidence through the Forensic Biology Sections responsible for serology which is used to find evidence of an identifiable body fluid which then allows for the DNA analysis of the identifiable body fluid in an effort to accurately match those fluids to a specific individual.

Kentuckians have grown to expect immediate results when evidence is submitted to the Kentucky State Police lab. Sadly, because of the failure to fully fund the forensic labs, and the experts who work in the labs, victims and their families can no longer expect immediate results, instead, results often take weeks, months and longer. This is especially crucial as it relates to the KSP Central Laboratory Branch Forensic Biology Sections.

Victims of crime and the families of victims of crimes deserve more from the Kentucky Legislature than excuses when it comes to properly funding the KSP Forensic labs. To quote Benjamin Franklin when he wrote, "He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else." So, one is left to ask the rhetorical question as to what excuses do those in leadership have for the failure to fully fund the KSP lab and its highly trained, highly skilled forensic examiners?

Amazingly, those in Frankfort responsible for crafting the Commonwealth’s budget can always find a million here and a million there for their pet projects. What is more important, appropriating money for asphalt for a bicycle path or the myriad other projects which should take a back seat to fully funding the KSP forensic labs.

Consider for a moment what the failure to fully fund the forensic lab means for the victims of crimes and the families of the victims of crimes. In essence, without a fully functioning forensic lab, victims and their families are left without answers not just weeks, but as we have witnessed in the investigation into the murder of Amber Spradlin, the family wakes up day after day with the hope that the DNA evidence will finally be completed, and the prosecution can move forward. Yet, as Amber’s murder was one year ago, the family still does not have all the answers as the family awaits the results of DNA testing.

What most do not understand is that a case cannot move forward without the results from the forensic lab. Unfortunately, in essence, the failure to obtain timely forensic results allows the guilty to avoid punishment sometimes for weeks, months and years. The failure to fully fund the forensic lab is akin to defunding law enforcement through a back door process. Another rhetorical question one is left to ask is why investigate a crime if it will never be prosecuted.

Recently, the former director of KSP’s forensic labs shared that it would take a mere three million dollars to process the backlog of DNA evidence. With the backlog cleared, she estimated that if the forensic lab were fully staffed, the time to process DNA evidence would be weeks, instead of months. However, the other elephant in the room is that the Commonwealth ranks 47th in the nation for the entry level salary for forensic examiners. While Kentucky pays a mere $44,213, Tennessee pays $66,096, Indiana pays $63,689, Ohio pays $60,528, and West Virginia pays $57,530. Is it any wonder why Kentucky’s forensic lab is understaffed?

So, are there solutions to the funding problem? While the answer to that question is complicated, there are solutions. One such solution would be to impose an additional $10 fee on court costs which could be used to supplement both the Commonwealth’s forensic labs and medical examiner’s office. Or better yet, Attorney General Russell Coleman could transfer several million dollars from the opioid settlement fund to end the backlog of evidence which is waiting to be analyzed. That is what Governor Andy Beshear did when he was Kentucky’s Attorney General when in 2016, he transferred $4.5 in settlement money to fund KSP crime lab upgrades and to help end the backlog of testing for the Sexual Assault Evidence Collection kits.

It is time for Frankfort to get off the fence and find solutions, and more importantly, the funds to move Kentucky’s forensic crime lab from 47th in the nation, to number one in the nation. It is time for all Kentuckians to demand solutions, not excuses. It is time for all victims and the families of victims to have justice, justice which oftentimes only comes when the evidence which is awaiting testing is completed and that evidence is provided to law enforcement and those who prosecute the thousands of crimes committed each year in the Commonwealth.

So, to end where this began, and in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” It is time for all Kentuckians to demand answers, not excuses from Frankfort.