State will study whether to expand DNA database

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Nearly a year after Jesse Matthew was convicted for the murder of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, her parents came to the Capitol asking lawmakers to take a closer look at expanding the state’s DNA database. They say it could have saved their daughter’s life.

“He wouldn’t have been hiding in plain sight, living in Charlottesville, working for the university medical system, coaching football at a local school,” Sue Graham said during her visit to the Capitol in January.

Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding, who brought the Grahams to Richmond, has been fighting to expand the state’s DNA database for years. This week, the state’s crime commission decided they will study the issue taking expansion one step closer to becoming a reality.

“DNA has just transformed the way we do law enforcement,” Harding said. “It’s not only helped us locate the guilty, it’s helped free the innocent. If they reach the same conclusions Ido, I think we have a lot better chance of moving this initiative forward in Virginia.”

Efforts to expand the DNA database have stalled in years past. Some lawmakers and groups like the ACLU have cited concerns over personal privacy, saying there has to be a balance between protecting the public and civil liberties.

“That data bank in Virginia has not been abused for over a quarter of a century,” Harding said.

Harding, who has worked in law enforcement for nearly 40 years, says he’s encountered too many victims he says could have been saved by expanded DNA testing.

“If we can take DNA upon conviction on a number of misdemeanors, I don’t have to be meeting these victims,” Harding said.

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