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Gone Cold | Texas DPS Crime Lab helps solve crimes through DNA testing

The Texas Department of Public Safety's Crime Lab in Waco helps law enforcement agencies across 20 counties solve crimes, including cold cases.

WACO, Texas — Be sure to tune in next week, Sept. 28, to 6 News at 10 where we will be airing our new series "Gone Cold: Unsolved Crimes in Central Texas," a collaborative effort by 6 News Reporter Baylee Bates and Digital Director Melissa Guz where will give an inside look into cold case mysteries.

Nestled off of Interstate 35 just north of Waco sits the Texas Department of Public Safety's Crime Lab where DNA is being tested to help solve crimes in Central Texas, including cold cases.

"Cold cases are still important and they're unsolved," said Brent Watson, the DNA section supervisor and technical leader at the lab. "Agencies have been going back and dedicating more time and resources to it, so naturally, we've been getting more evidence associated with them to try and help them out."

Serving around 20 counties, Watson explained that the Crime Lab receives an average of 100 crime cases a month, so about 1,200 cases a year; most of them being sexual assault cases.

Each case is screened one at a time for DNA samples and samples can vary in size depending on the case. He added that DNA testing technology has advanced so much so that they don't need high quality samples or nearly as much of them to find potential answers.

“The way we look at DNA is when it comes to us in the forms of stains, whether that's a blood stain, semen stain, a saliva stain and also as far as skin cells go," he said. "You only need a stain that's a fraction of a blood drop and then to be even more sensitive just by touching certain items or having contact with certain items."

"It's possible that you can shed your skin cells on to that where we can come behind you, swab that up and then develop your DNA profile having had contact with that item," he added.

Even with the hundreds of cases they see, however, the number of them being unsolved crimes are few, Watson said.

"I would say over the last several years, we've worked at least probably five to 10 cold cases that I'm aware of," Watson, who has been working at the lab for the past 20 years, explained.

One of those cases included a 30-year-old cold case that was solved this past summer thanks to DNA testing, according to the Waco Police Department.

On Sept. 22, 1991, 28-year-old Rita Davis was found murdered near 7th Street and McKinney. An autopsy revealed Davis died of blunt force injuries to her head and a hemorrhage to her neck. Sperm samples were also found following a sex assault case, police added.

RELATED: SOLVED | Waco PD solves 30-year-old cold murder case with man's arrest

Even so, technology at the time wasn't advanced enough to determine if the suspect, Harold Givens, had anything to do with her death then, police said.

But thanks to newer technology, forensic scientists were able to find minor samples of Givens' DNA, which was enough for detectives to determine his original interview in the 90s wasn't true, Waco PD said.

Givens was arrested on June 21, 2022 without incident and charged with Davis' murder.

RELATED: A 30-year-old Waco murder mystery comes to an end: Man indicted on murder charges

"Maybe you can sleep a little bit better at night knowing that certain criminals are the criminals being taken off the streets. And that's what we're here for. To serve the community, to make it a little bit safer for everyone because we live here too," he said.

He said testing results come in much quicker than they did decades ago too, which helps Detective Michael Alston with Waco Police Department as he works on unsolved crimes.

He is assigned to work on the department's 120 cold cases, which is a very tedious process that he is dedicated to.

"You want to bring closure to the family, justice for the victim and bring the suspect to answer for justice, that’s the main thing," Alston said.

He told 6 News cases can go unsolved for a number of reasons, whether it be not enough resources, time, or not enough evidence against a suspect to make an arrest.

Alston said law enforcement also didn't have the right technology back in the day that could give as clear answers as it does now.

"That's a game changer that you can go back with some of these old cases and look at some evidence, have it tested and they can get a DNA profile," Alston added. "Then some work can begin to try to identify a person to that profile."

That's why it's important for him to partner with Watson and the Waco lab. 

"We'll try to explore a little bit deeper on some of those unsolved cases to see if we can help them anyway, because usually they're at a dead end at that point," Watson said.

Be sure to tune in next week, Sept. 28, to 6 News at 10 where we will be airing our new series "Gone Cold: Unsolved Crimes in Central Texas," a collaborative effort by 6 News Reporter Baylee Bates and Digital Director Melissa Guz where will give an inside look into cold case mysteries.

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