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DNA Mix-Up Kept Suspected Serial Killer Free

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DNA Mix-Up Kept Suspected Serial Killer Free

U.S.

DNA Mix-Up Kept Suspected Serial Killer Free

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Gil Halsted of Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

GIL HALSTED: Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Rick Raemisch says the deadly snafu resulted from a breakdown in communications between the two agencies responsible for handling DNA samples.

RICK RAEMISCH: Within a very short period, it was discovered that a sample was given under another individual's name. Unfortunately, that information was not given back to us by the Department of Justice, so it basically sat there for, frankly, for years.

HALSTED: Fast forward to this September, when Milwaukee police linked an unknown DNA sample to nine different murders in the same Milwaukee neighborhood over the past 20 years. Ellis' name kept coming up in the investigations, so his DNA sample was taken and it matched those found on the bodies of nine women. Ellis is now charged with the murder of seven of them. Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle says the fatal glitch was the result of too few people trying to gather too much DNA.

JIM DOYLE: There were large sweeps of the prison system. In one month, they took 19,000 samples. DNA, you don't just go and take a little sample, throw it in a machine and have a number. It's a process that I think back in the early 2000s took several months to do.

HALSTED: Ott was convicted in 1996 of killing 16-year-old Jessica Payne, although there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. With help from the Wisconsin Innocence Project, Ott was released in January. He' is suing Milwaukee officials for the 13 years he spent in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He says he wants someone held accountable.

CHAUNTE OTT: They'd like for everyone during the procedures of court processes, they like for you to admit responsibility, and they' have yet to do that in this case. And it's quite obvious to, I believe, for them to admit responsibility and just let the true facts come out as they will, you know, instead of hiding and trying to whitewash everything.

HALSTED: Wisconsin Innocence Project director Keith Findley says the error that led to Ott's conviction will likely prompt them to re-open other cases where DNA is a key factor in an inmate's claim of innocence.

KEITH FINDLEY: This has shown that the system is fallible, and people are going to be making inquiries into that and challenges based on that.

HALSTED: For NPR News, I'm Gil Halsted in Milwaukee.

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