Backlog of Criminal Cases in W.Va. Impacting Victims and Taxpayers

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- When it comes to seeking justice, there's a big delay in the Mountain State. It's having a major impact on victims of crimes, and it's costing tax payers millions of dollars.

The only full service forensic lab in the state is at West Virginia State Police headquarters in South Charleston.

Currently, there are 2,817 cases backlogged. Some of them go all the way back to 2011. Eight hundred of those cases have popped up just in the past few months.

“They stole pretty much anything of real value,” John Halstead said about the thieves who broke into one of his rental properties.

About $5,000 worth of items was taken from the home in South Charleston, which Halstead is currently using for storage.

“I do feel somewhat fortunate that they didn't strip the house of its copper,” Halstead said.

Although police collected evidence about a month ago, the case could prove challenging because of the massive case backload.

“It just might take a long time to figure out who these finger prints belong to,” Halstead said.

When we told him he's one of thousands playing the waiting game, Halstead said, “Suddenly my losses seem petty.”

Victims of violent crimes like rape must wait for DNA results before an arrest can be made. That can take more than a year.

Meanwhile, jails are overcrowded with inmates just waiting for their day in court while evidence waits to be processed.

“There are guilty people that might be released because things take so long to get through the system,” Sam Fortener, a forensic analyst, said.

Fortener worked at the lab in West Virginia for about five years, but now he works in Ohio.

“I left for about $15,000 more a year,” Fortener said.

After five years of experience, a forensic analyst in West Virginia could make an average of $20,000 more in any surrounding state.

To try to fix this problem, a bill has been presented to the Legislature asking for employee pay raises at the lab.

It would cost nearly $600,000, which supporters say is minor compared to the millions being spent to keep inmates in jail, as well as training costs for analysts who leave the state after just a few years.

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