Gov. Susana Martinez and the parents of a slain New Mexico State University student on Sunday praised Congress for approving legislation that will encourage states to collect DNA from individuals arrested or charged with serious crimes.
The law is named for Katie Sepich, who was raped and murdered in 2003. Her killer was arrested that same year for unrelated crimes, but he was not identified because New Mexico did not collect DNA from felony arrestees at the time. Three years later, after he was convicted of another crime, he was identified with DNA evidence.
Katie Sepich’s parents, David and Jayann, have launched a national campaign to pass a “Katie’s Law” in every state.
“Three years is a long time,” said Sepich’s father, David, in a news release. “It’s a long time for a family to wait. This bill will assist states as they try to shorten that wait for other families in our position.”
The legislation passed the House the week before Christmas and the Senate late Friday. It is now awaiting the president’s signature.
The law would authorize the Department of Justice to award grants to cover a state’s first year cost of implementing a collection program. Such programs allow law enforcement to compare DNA collected from adults who are arrested or charged with certain serious crimes – including homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary and aggravated assault – against an FBI DNA database.
New Mexico’s version of the law, passed in 2006, required DNA samples from suspects arrested for violent felonies. A revision in 2011 extended the testing requirement to all felonies.
“In New Mexico, we have solved homicides, rapes, burglaries,” said Martinez, who was district attorney in Las Cruces when Sepich was murdered and has been a strong advocate of the law. “It is amazing what a great law enforcement tool this is to keep New Mexicans safe.”
Maryland’s version of the law faces a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court. Martinez’s administration has filed a brief in support of Maryland’s law, the governor said in an interview Sunday.
“I handled Katie’s case when she was murdered, and to see the agony of a family, not to know who killed their daughter for three years is completely unfathomable,” Martinez said.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal