The Utah Cold Case Coalition, which relies on a volunteer staff and was founded to help bring attention to the cold case 1995 murder of a six-year-old named Rosie Tapia, signed a lease for space for the lab in an office building in the city of Murray.
“This is going to revolutionize cold cases across the United States,” said coalition co-founder Karra Porter, a defense attorney, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune. “We saw this need and it was too big to ignore.”
Utah has about 400 cold cases that run the gamut from murders and missing persons to bodies whose identities are unknown, says the Utah Department of Public Safety website. Nationwide, an estimated 103,780 murders that occurred between 1996 and 2016 remain unresolved, said a report by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The coalition hopes to raise $200,000 for DNA lab equipment and has launched a GoFundMe page with a starting goal of $81,000.
Porter envisions starting out by helping solve Utah cold cases and then expanding to help police from around the country.
Its GoFundMe page says: “Despite being staffed by volunteers, we're one of the most creative and aggressive cold case organizations in the U.S. We began in Utah, but are now contacted by families and law enforcement throughout the country. Early on, we learned how much evidence has not undergone DNA testing due to its high cost. We're doing something about it.”
A police investigator in the Utah city of West Jordan said a DNA lab would help cut down on the time and cost it takes to deal with cold cases.
Francine Bardole said the department has a backlog of untested DNA and rape kids, among other things.
Getting DNA tested can take anywhere from eight to 18 months, Bardole told the Tribune.
“The price can be overwhelming,” she said, adding that going to a private lab can cost about $6,000.
“How many departments can afford to pay, on one case, $6,000?” Bardole asked.
Last year, the Utah legislature passed a law requiring law enforcement agencies around the state to enter their cold cases – or those that go unsolved for at least three years -- into a database.