Gulf Coast Gets New and Improved State Crime Lab

The tremendous backlog of cases that plagued the State Crime Lab a few years ago has disappeared, and officials say want they want to keep it that way.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and other officials helped open the new crime lab branch on the coast on Monday. The office on Biloxi's Bayview Avenue will do forensic work for law enforcement agencies in 11 South Mississippi counties.

The state spent $800,000 to renovate part of a building it already owns for the new lab. Not counting salaries, officials expect the lab to cost about $250,000 a year to operate.

After four years inside a rundown, poorly ventilated building, forensic scientist Velveda Harried says the new Gulf Coast crime laboratory in Biloxi feels like heaven.

"It's set up more like a lab in here, so it will be a lot easier to perform my duties a whole lot better over here. Everything that we need is in place," Harried said.

Crime Lab investigators say Coast law enforcers make a large number of drug and weapons arrests on Interstate 10. The new crime lab is set up to handle more evidence than the old lab, which means not as much evidence will have to be transported to Jackson for analysis.

"If we're able to get to the forensic evidence faster and able to analyze it faster and get it back to the district attorney for prosecution, or if it's a case where it clears an individual, then it saves the taxpayers' money because people sitting in the county jail with the day to day cost of that individual sitting there," crime lab director Ken Winter said.

The lab is designed to help district attorney Cono Caranna prosecute offenders more efficiently. In the past, he says lack of resources made getting evidence back from laboratory difficult.

"It means that we should be able to have better forensic evidence available for cases and that means that juries can be more certain of what they're doing," Caranna said.

For scientists like Harried who have to complete 80 to 100 cases each month, it doesn't take much examination to figure out why the new lab makes the work easier to handle.