by: Greg Suskin Updated:
YORK COUNTY, S.C. - Cases involving burglary, sexual assault and even murder are already under review at a new DNA crime lab in York County.
The lab was three years in the making and its two analysts are working full time helping law enforcement solve cases.
One of the biggest assets of the new DNA lab is speed. Until now, all DNA test samples were sent to South Carolina Law Enforcement Division in Columbia.
Cristy Kissel, who runs the new lab, says that was a problem.
"Not only do they send all their evidence down there, but every other county in South Carolina sends their stuff there too," Kissel said.
That often meant long waits for results -- sometimes months, sometimes a year.
That's a big disadvantage for law enforcement looking to get a criminal off the streets.
York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said having this technology will make a difference.
"Sometimes we're waiting close to a year to get those results back and during that year, that same perpetrator may be breaking into more houses, or may be committing a lot more crimes," Bryant said.
On Friday, Channel 9 saw a demonstration of how analysts can test an item for traces of blood or uncover DNA in saliva left on a ski mask used in a crime.
The lab can also test for touch DNA, which has only been in use for the last five to 10 years.
When someone briefly touches something, they leave skin cells behind. A test can lead to a DNA match and the identity of a potential suspect.
Kissel said the lab will take law enforcement to a new level here.
'"This is going to make their investigations go so much smoother, so much faster," she said.
In fact, 100 cases that were sitting in Columbia have been sent back to York County where they will be processed much sooner.
Lab workers are already working 20 cases this week and also helped in a high-profile murder case.
Well-known lawyer Melvin Roberts was killed outside his home in York in 2010.
His girlfriend Julia Phillips is in prison for convicted of the murder but York police are still looking for the actual killer.
One of Roberts' sons discovered a metal file in his driveway just last month. It was analyzed at the new lab, but no DNA was found.
The lab will be very busy, very soon.
Lab workers expect to have 200 cases or more waiting for results in just weeks.
Those cases are accepted only from law enforcement agencies in York County.