MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy says he wants to move a state crime lab back to Memphis and get more funding to address the city’s rape kit testing backlog.
Mulroy and county Mayor Lee Harris are making the recommendations as the state legislature prepares to meet in Nashville.
Mulroy told us Wednesday that ideally, the proposed Memphis crime lab would be run by the TBI and funded by the state, since it’s a state responsibility.
Currently DNA evidence is sent to a lab in Jackson, which services 21 counties in West Tennessee, after the TBI moved the lab from Memphis.
The recent tragic death of avid runner Eliza Fletcher highlighted the long turnaround times for DNA testing after it was discovered her accused attacker’s DNA sat on a shelf untested for months.
“Unfortunately, Shelby County has a lot of disproportionately high number of cases where we’re going to need that kind of testing. I think it makes sense to re-establish the crime lab in Memphis where it used to be,” Mulroy said.
Mulroy commended state lawmakers and the governor for making what he called positive steps to hire 20 new TBI technicians.
In a recent meeting with state lawmakers on criminal justice, TBI leaders talked about the difficulties that come with staffing crime labs and retaining technicians.
“So in the case of a DNA scientist working in forensic biology, it takes about a year and a half, 18 months to train that person. The average bottom line for benefits for somebody fresh out of school is around $75,000 a year,” said Mike Lyttle, Assistant Director of TBI Crime Labs.
Mulroy says he understands that there are budget concerns.
“This would require additional funding from the state legislature, you know, and that’s something that we’re asking for. If that were not a possibility, then at least make sure to sufficiently staff the existing TBI labs so that we can get turnaround times down to something a little bit more manageable,” he said.
In a statement, a spokesperson with the TBI told us:
We want to assure the public that the location of a TBI crime laboratory does not dictate whether a specific agency’s evidence takes priority. Our West Tennessee crime laboratory moved from Memphis to Jackson in 2021, as it is more centrally located for all of the agencies we serve in the 21 counties in this part of the state. Shelby County’s agencies continue to receive the same level of service in our new laboratory, with an added courtesy of TBI special agent/forensic scientists transporting some evidence on a weekly basis for all law enforcement in Shelby County.
We are grateful to Governor Lee and the General Assembly for their continued support of TBI, including notable investments in personnel and financial improvements. We look forward to laying out our plan for the upcoming fiscal year to not only attract talented and qualified personnel but also to offer competitive pay to retain current and new additions to our team, believing all of those enhancements will address the concerns raised by General Mulroy and others in this ongoing conversation about our state crime laboratory system.