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Theories explain delay in IDing prints

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Mike DuPre'
February 27, 2008
— Why the delay?

Why was the FBI now able to link a suspect to fingerprints from a 1998 crime scene when the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory couldn’t do it 10 years ago?


It was a common question as details were revealed about the Janesville police investigation into what is known as the serial rape case.


Michael R. Huber, 31, of 2133 Ontario Drive, was arrested at his home at 9:15 p.m. Saturday. He was charged Tuesday with first-degree sexual assault and burglary in connection with the rape Aug. 3, 1998, of a 26-year-old Janesville woman in her home.


Police said the break in the case came when an FBI fingerprint analyst matched prints from the crime scene to Huber, a convicted felon.


Jerry Geurts, director of the state crime lab, offered two possible explanations Tuesday afternoon. Geurts stressed that he is not allowed to talk about specific cases, but the general explanations he offered could apply to the Janesville investigation.


One is that the state crime lab and the FBI could have had two different fingerprint cards and the FBI’s card was more legible.


When a suspect has been arrested several times—as is the case with Huber—each arresting agency would fingerprint the suspect. A print might be smudged on one card but much more legible on another, Geurts said.


The latest technology now scans a suspect’s fingerprints directly and electronically, Geurts said.


It’s possible, he said, that different cards went to different agencies. The crime lab enters its fingerprint information into one database; the FBI into another.


The crime lab does not routinely send its fingerprints to the FBI for further analysis, said Kevin St. John, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Justice.


The FBI analyzed the 1998 fingerprints at the request of Janesville police.


Another possible explanation is that technological advances over the last 10 years made the FBI match possible.


Since 1998, the state crime lab has gone through at least one generation of upgrades to its fingerprint scanners, coders and matching devices, Geurts said.


A technology upgrade does not automatically trigger a review of evidence in old cases because the lab continuously receives evidence in new cases, St. John said.



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