City Okays Extra Money for Crime Lab Probe

After a short delay because of funding questions, the second phase of an independent Houston Police Crime Lab probe is set to resume after city council approved the extra money yesterday.

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The delay came after independent investigator Michael Bromwich told council earlier this month that he'd need another $1.6 million to get the job done right, above the orginal $2.2 million he estimated when he was hired. That puts the total cost of the crime lab probe at $3.8 million. Mayor Bill White says it's money well spent. "We initiated this process, setting up an independent citizen's committee, finding the most qualified, going through and assessing the situation and now they'll be in the final phase of the work of the expert," says White. "I think we need to know if there was any injustice we haven't heard about and correct it and the public needs to know that we're on the right track in making sure our forensics is reliable."

Questions about where the money would come from stalled the second phase of the investigation, but $500,000 from the District Attorney's office helped move the process along. Councilmember Adrian Garcia says he wasn't pleased when Bromwich requested the extra money, but says it's important to continue the review of crime lab procedures. "The justice that we're looking for and the audit of our crime lab in theory should not have a price tag. The reality is that it does and we're at this particular point that we cannot compromise any of the progress that we have made by trying to put one on it," says Garcia.

In the second phase of the probe, investigators will review 2700 specific criminal cases to see if botched DNA evidence processing affected defendents in those cases. Councilwoman Ada Edwards says the quest to find the cause of the crime lab's troubles shouldn't be hindered by budget questions. "I don't know how much money is too much money, but the truth is never free. There's always a sacrifice for the truth," she says.

The newest phase of the Bromwich review could take up to a year-and-a-half. HPD Executive Assistant Chief Martha Montalvo says it's important that the investigation resumes quickly and finds answers as soon as possible.

Bromwich, a noted expert on crime lab reviews, is expected to give the city recommendations on how to move forward at the end of his investigation.

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