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April 9, 2014

DNA matches Texas inmate in Houston cold cases

HOUSTON — An analysis of Houston police sexual assault kits, which at one time went years without being tested, has resulted in DNA evidence that implicated a prison inmate in multiple assaults dating to 1992, police officials said.

Texas prison system records show 43-year-old Herman Ray Whitfield on Wednesday was in the Byrd Unit in Huntsville, serving time for kidnapping.

Police announced Tuesday that Whitfield has been charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child and three counts of aggravated sexual assault. The outcome came as part of DNA evidence testing on an extensive backlog of police sexual assault kits.

The attacks happened from 1992 to 1994, and again from 2006 to 2009, in bushes, on trails and at vacant properties, authorities said, adding that they believe others were attacked.

Whitfield was convicted of kidnapping in 1995, paroled in 2006 and returned to prison in 2009 for a parole violation. Online prison records don't list an attorney for him.

"He was very violent in his assaults," Sgt. John Colburn said of the 6-foot-3 Whitfield. "He choked his victims and would display a weapon or let them know he had one."

The announcement comes a year after two independent labs began processing about 10,000 cases — including 6,600 untested kits — that were stored in the Houston police department's property room, according to the Houston Chronicle . The oldest of the untested kits dates to 1987.

City leaders last year approved spending $4.4 million to send evidence for testing at two independent labs.

The testing was necessary not only to eliminate the backlog, but also to keep up with a growing number of newer cases developed by investigators that required DNA testing.

Houston police closed their crime lab in 2002. An independent audit criticized the lab, citing unqualified personnel, lax protocols and inadequate facilities that included a leaky roof that allowed rainwater to contaminate evidence, according to the Chronicle.

Police officials said in February that expedited testing had led to a number of arrests but they didn't identify any of the suspects at the time.

Colburn said at some point during Whitfield's parole, his DNA was entered into a national database, which allowed police to later link him to the four Houston cases.

Evidence in the assault cases linked to Whitfield was developed by DNA testing done by the independent labs.

 

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