JEFFERSON CITY — Katie Sepich was raped, strangled and set on fire outside her New Mexico home in 2003. After DNA was found under her fingernails, her family hoped that police would be able to catch the murderer. The DNA, however, was not in the federal DNA database, so there was no evidence to tie someone to the crime.
“There is nothing more painful than losing a child,” Jayann Sepich, Katie’s mother, said at a Missouri Senate Progress and Development Committee hearing Tuesday.
After three years with no progress in the case, Katie’s family finally got justice. Gabrial Avila was arrested for a burglary, had his DNA collected upon arrest and then matched to the DNA found on Katie.
New Mexico could match Avila’s DNA to Katie’s crime only because of a law known as Katie’s Law. It requires those arrested of any felony to have their DNA collected upon arrest. Now, Missouri is considering a similar law.
Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, is sponsoring Senate Bill 696, which would require people 17 and older to have DNA collected after any felony arrest. The law currently requires DNA collection and testing only upon arrest for certain felonies, such as murder and rape.
“It would result in more samples and, frankly, more database hits. We’d be catching more criminals,” Sifton said.
Thirty states, including Missouri, require DNA to be collected and tested for those arrested or charged with violent crimes, according to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only 18 states require DNA collection for all felonies, Sepich said.
Sepich has been a big advocate for this type of legislation. She said a law like this has many benefits, including solving crimes, preventing crimes and exonerating the innocent.
“Lives will be saved,” Sepich said. “And families like mine will be saved a lifetime of grief.”
Although no one testified in opposition to the bill, objections in other states have centered around infringement of civil liberties and violation of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unlawful search and seizure. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, disagreed with that position in a 2013 case, Maryland v. King, and upheld the right to collect DNA upon arrest.