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Statement of Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen on Missing Ellis Sample

MILWAUKEE- Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen released the following statement today on the missing Walter Ellis DNA sample that should have been submitted to the Crime Lab in 2001: 


Last Monday, Labor Day, I was concerned to learn Walter Ellis DNA profile was not in the convicted offender database, but should have been.  I directed department staff to investigate why his profile was missing.  


As a result of this investigation, we now believe the Department of Corrections submitted to the DNA Data Bank a sample purporting to be from Walter Ellis but actually containing the DNA and fingerprint of another inmate.  A sample appears to have been collected by Corrections from the wrong person.   


In 2001, DNA Data Bank and Crime Lab personnel confirmed that the DNA came from another individual, identified the sample as a duplicate, and assigned the records to that person.  There were no protocols in place for addressing this set of facts, though in hindsight, I believe the Crime Lab should have notified Corrections. 


We are currently reviewing our records in an attempt to identify other instances where this may have occurred.  More broadly, I have directed an internal audit to identify individuals for whom the DNA Data Bank should have a sample, but for some reason no sample was submitted.  While this work is ongoing, our initial analysis shows that there may be at least 12,000 people falling into this category, and that the majority are or were under the custody or supervision of the Department of Corrections.   


The Wisconsin Crime Laboratory is a scientific laboratory, staffed by forensic scientists.  It does not have custody of offenders and does not oversee the collection of samples.  Samples are collected and submitted by the Department of Corrections, and sometimes sheriffs offices.  It appears that the collection and submission process can be improved, and the Department of Justice is willing to assist those entities in the interest of public safety.  When our audit is completed, we will have a better sense of what needs to be done. 


End of Statement 


A copy of a memorandum to Attorney General Van Hollen from Gary Hamblin, the Administrator of the Division of Law Enforcement Services which includes the State Crime Laboratories, is available. That memorandum details the Departments internal audit of this matter.


2009 file: