DESOTO COUNTY, Miss. — The killing of former Mississippi State House Representative Ashley Henley and the delays in a crime lab autopsy of her sister-in-law is pushing the issue of delays at the Mississippi Crime Lab to the forefront.
There is a lot of talk among the Desoto Delegation about a possible investigation into the crime lab to see why these delays keep happening.
House Representative Dana Criswell of Olive Branch spoke to us by phone.
“I think we have to certainly this issue with Representative Henley has brought to the forefront for a lot of people on how slow this can be and how it can interfere and be detrimental to an investigation,” Criswell said.
Criswell told us that funding is certainly an issue for the crime lab but it’s not the only thing that needs to be looked at.
“If it’s just the funding for how much they are paying or if it’s been in the past a lack of priority because that’s not a very high profile place to spend your money,” Criswell said.
In the past, leadership at the crime lab said it has been an issue because the pay by the crime lab was not competitive and Mississippi’s image among other things stopped some from moving to the state.
“The backlog in the crime lab has been an issue since before I was elected and we have been dealing with that issue in the legislature.”
The autopsy for Henley’s sister-in-law took six months.
At one point a few years back, the state crime lab altogether stopped doing gunshot residue testing because they were two years behind.
They started back up about six months ago.
According to Captain Alex Fennell with Southaven PD, “It could take upwards of two months or so sometimes quicker sometimes it depends on how backlogged they are.”
Two years ago autopsies were taking a year to complete.
While they can still take six months or longer Fennell told us there is another route.
“So if it is a high profile case, we can reach out to the crime lab and they can expedite whatever evidence we need like if it was a murder that would be pushed to the front if we asked them to,” Fennell said.
There has been some talk among legislators about adding more regional offices for the crime lab to up response time.
“Maybe if there is the manpower to staff if there is a crime lab in Batesville and if they can’t process it we send it to Jackson,” Fennell said.
One of the problems Mississippi had in the past with crime lab staffing is those who can work in it are going to other states with higher pay.
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