Ceremonial signing of DNA bill completes Rep. Bauer’s years of effort
INDIANAPOLIS – As Gov. Eric Holcomb took pen into hand during a special ceremonial signing of the arrest DNA sample bill, State Rep. B. Patrick Bauer (D-South Bend) stood behind the governor’s chair reflecting about the long journey this legislation took to become law.
“Several years ago, my wife, Karen, and I met a remarkable woman named Jayann Sepich,” said Bauer. “This mother from New Mexico experienced the indescribable horror of her 22-year-old daughter being brutally raped and murdered in 2003. Mrs. Sepich learned through that experience that her daughter’s killer could have been captured and brought to justice before he committed this heinous crime against her beloved Katie, if DNA sampling had been used in New Mexico.
“After this heart-breaking tragedy, Mrs. Sepich could have retreated within herself, but instead this courageous woman got the law changed in her home state and went on a crusade to enact DNA sampling laws throughout the country,” continued Bauer. “I still get choked up just thinking about her dedication and indefatigable resolve to fight for this issue, even through the pain of a scared memory. Jayann knows that DNA sampling bills save innocent lives, potentially millions of them, by getting murderers and rapists off the streets. I am so pleased that the journey has come to a successful conclusion here in Indiana.”
Gov. Holcomb mentioned during the ceremony that Republican Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico had called to urge him to sign the bill into law.
“What most people don’t realize is that Gov. Martinez, as district attorney, successfully prosecuted and convicted Katie Sepich’s murderer,” explained Bauer. “Martinez was instrumental is passing ‘Katie’s Law’ to require a DNA sample to be taken from anyone arrested for a violent felony in New Mexico. After she became governor, she made it a priority to expand the law to require a DNA sample for all felony arrests. The successful bill had strong bipartisan support.
“When the law was challenged in the United States Supreme Court, Gov. Martinez filed an amicus brief with the court,” added Bauer. “The high court upheld the law in 2013 as being consistent with the U.S. Constitution’s 4th Amendment, ruling it was the 21st century equivalent of fingerprinting. When we passed Senate Bill 322 with bipartisan support in the Indiana General Assembly, I called Gov. Martinez’s office to ask her to phone Gov. Holcomb. I knew her words of recommendation would be highly considered by our governor, so she made the call.
“I am sincerely appreciative that Gov. Martinez took the time and interest in our state to make the case for the bill,” said Bauer. “I also am deeply appreciative of the support this legislation received from Republican and Democratic legislators in our state, especially from Sen. Erin Houchin (R-Salem) and Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Avon)” offered Bauer. “This is not a partisan bill. It is a bill that saves lives and puts serial rapists and murderers behind bars. It also has exonerated wrongly convicted individuals in other states.
“When I started this effort in Indiana three years ago, I ran into a lot of misunderstanding about what the legislation actually would do. Through hearings and personal conversations, legislators came to realize the importance of the bill and began to support it. I can honestly say that this law is perhaps the most important the Indiana General Assembly has passed during my 47 years in the Indiana House. The lives that will be saved will be numerous and pain spared to families will be beyond measure.”
The Indiana law requires a simple swab inside the cheek of a person arrested for a felony. If the person is found to be innocent, then the data is not kept. The 20-marker sample creates a DNA profile without containing other identifiable characteristics, like health and personal attributes. The DNA samples are entered into a national databank, known as the Combined DNA Index System or CODIS, to see if there are matches. Those matches have resulted in the successful conviction of repeat offenders in states that have a DNA collection law.
Bauer also said the new law will be cost-effective. Analysts estimate that DNA sampling in Indiana will save $60 million a year in tax money because of sizable reductions in judicial system expenditures.
Sepich testified in a hearing before a 2016 Indiana General Assembly study committee as well as before House and Senate committees during the 2017 legislative session. Sepich told legislators of a study that tracked eight convicted felons in Chicago. They were responsible for 53 rapes and murders. Sepich maintained that if DNA sampling had been used upon felony arrest in Chicago, most of those innocent lives would not have been lost.
Indiana joins 30 other states and 53 countries in adopting arrest DNA sampling.