AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has announced that House Bill (HB) 1399 assisted in the closure of more than 250 unsolved criminal investigations during its first year of implementation.
The law authorizes the collection of DNA samples from individuals charged with 24 qualifying felonies and compares the offender samples to existing crime scene DNA profiles in the nationwide Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database. The law, also known as the Krystal Jean Baker Act, went into effect on Sept. 1, 2019.
The law is named for Krystal Jean Baker, a 13-year-old Texas City girl who was abducted, sexually assaulted, and killed in 1996. DNA evidence was collected at the time of her death, but no arrests were made. In 2010, the perpetrator of Baker’s murder was arrested on an unrelated charge in Louisiana, and DNA taken at the time of his arrest linked him to Baker’s case. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to her murder in Chambers County.
“The hard work of our crime lab employees and law enforcement officials is allowing us to make great strides in solving crimes faster, and in some cases, crimes that otherwise may never have been solved,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw in a news release. “Only a year after its passage, this law has become a valuable tool in getting criminals off our streets and bringing justice for victims and their families. We expect additional success as this process becomes an integral and vital part of the criminal justice landscape.”
Under HB 1399, law enforcement is not required to wait for a conviction to gather a DNA sample. Upon a person’s arrest for a qualifying felony, a cheek swab is collected and sent to the DPS lab to be entered into CODIS. The statute was passed during the 86th Texas Legislative Session and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.
While many qualifying offenders arrested since HB 1399 went into effect were already in the CODIS database for other crimes, there have been 16,215 DNA samples from new offenders that were collected, analyzed, and uploaded into the database for potential matches between Sept. 1, 2019, and Aug. 31, 2020.
The vast majority of HB 1399 offender-to-case matches (236) were from unsolved crimes in Texas, with the remainder related to criminal activity in South Carolina, New York, Arkansas, Idaho, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Most of the investigations aided by HB 1399 (78%) involved crimes that occurred in the same county or a bordering county relative to where the offender was arrested, and 85% solved a different criminal offense than the qualifying crime they were arrested for.
The counties with the highest number of offender DNA samples that resulted in database matches in the first year were Harris (78), Dallas (47), Tarrant (20), Travis (18) and Fort Bend (11), while the top five counties where new case matches took place were Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Travis and Montgomery counties.
Officials highlighted several of the success stories which included:
- An arrest was made in the 17-year-old cold case strangulation of a 21-year-old woman in Lubbock County after the suspect was arrested earlier this year on an unrelated charge, and a DNA match was made to the homicide. He is also considered a suspect in a second homicide in the Lubbock area from 2004.
- A suspect arrested for an aggravated assault in 2019 in Tarrant County matched to a murder from 1994, more than 25 years after the crime — the oldest case assisted so far as the result of HB 1399.
- A suspect in Bastrop County was arrested for assault and matched to nine vehicle crimes in South Carolina, which occurred during a four-day crime spree in 2012.