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Police Errors Imperil K.C. Homicides

October 19, 2002

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Slipshod handling of evidence has put at least eight homicide cases in doubt, while evidence in other cases has disappeared or been ruined in outdated storage systems, an internal audit shows.

Examples of problems at the Kansas City police department include a warehouse with a leaky roof and mice that ruined exhibits, and bungling that led to the disappearance of a bloodstained door.

Kansas City Police Chief Richard Easley ordered the probe after Jackson County prosecutors were forced to drop a homicide case in May because a sergeant had ignored procedures and destroyed evidence.

Results of the audit, completed last month, were obtained by The Kansas City Star under Missouri’s Sunshine Law and reported in Saturday’s editions.

``We feel very badly for the families involved,″ Easley told the newspaper. ``We are doing everything we can to ensure this doesn’t happen again.″

As a first step, Easley has authorized installation of a new computer system, to be up and running within a month, that will give police up-to-the-minute updates on every homicide case.

Improving the property and evidence warehouse, which contains more than 149,000 items, will take more time. Besides the mice and roof problems, lack of air conditioning means temperatures and humidity can rise to levels that can destroy DNA evidence.

Three of the imperiled homicide prosecutions involved destruction of evidence by one person. One case was initially listed mistakenly as a suicide _ which under department policy at the time called for evidence to be destroyed after 30 days. In the other two cases, a sergeant ignored procedure by failing to check computer files before destroying evidence critical to prosecuting the suspects.

Families of crime victims expressed anger.

Ronald Weese said he could not understand how police could have misplaced or destroyed a bloodstained door, evidence in the killing of family friend Betty Nichols in a 1987 burglary.

``It’s not like it’s some little thing,″ Weese said. ``It’s a shame. ... With the DNA technology they have today, they could’ve proved who killed Betty. Without the door, that’ll never happen.″

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