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Travis County OKs external audit for Austin crime lab

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg has turned to Travis County officials for help in conducting an independent audit of the Austin Police Department’s crime lab, in light of concerns raised by a former forensic scientist.

 

On Tuesday, Travis County commissioners approved $50,000, to be taken from reserves, to hire external auditors to conduct a quality assessment and audit of the lab.

 

“The audit should be completed as soon as possible so that cases pending in the criminal district courts will not continue to be impacted,” she wrote in a memo to the court last week.

 

Lawyers have cited, in defending their clients, the concerns raised by the former employee. Also, Laura Hall, who was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison for her role in the 2005 murder of Jennifer Cave, also cited the concerns in her recent request for a new trial, according to local news reports. Cave’s death was particularly gruesome – she was dismembered — and made national headlines.

 

The court approved the audit along with budget transfers and amendments, and there was little discussion about it. The money will be transferred to the district attorney’s operating budget.

 

APD’s DNA lab has passed four audits since 2005, including one last spring, according to Lehmberg’s memo. More than 350 standards must be evaluated during the audits. None of the four reviews produced any findings.

 

“However, because of the recent allegations of a former Senior Forensic Scientist in the APD DNA Laboratory and the resulting concerns raised by defense attorneys, I recommend that Travis County independently contract with external auditors to perform another quality assessment and audit of the APD DNA Laboratory,” Lehmberg wrote. “The audit should be completed as soon as possible so that cases pending in the criminal district courts will not continue to be impacted.”

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