SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez says the new Katie's Law is a ringing success, as more DNA collections imprison murderers, rapists and car thieves who otherwise might elude police.

Martinez called a news conference last week to say that DNA samples obtained under the enhanced law had led to matches in five murder cases.

"Thanks to the expanded version of Katie's Law, which requires a DNA sample from anyone arrested for a felony, we have seen a remarkable rise in DNA matches that have allowed us to put more criminals behind bars," Martinez said.

But neither Martinez nor the lab administrator who generated the statistics know if the DNA findings actually led to any convictions in the five murder cases or any other crimes in the last 12 months.

They will not provide the names of the murder suspects. They cannot say when or where the killings occurred. They do not even know if an arrest was made.

John Krebsbach, director of the New Mexico DNA Identification System, said no definitive tracking system exists to determine if Katie's Law helped solve any of the murders.

"I couldn't tell you where any of these cases stand," he said in an interview.

He said Martinez was in the same position.

"She doesn't have the names (of any defendants). She doesn't know what law enforcement agency is involved," Krebsbach said.

That is because Krebsbach merely reported his findings of DNA matches back to state and Albuquerque crime labs that work with detectives on homicide investigations.


In turn, those labs were to notify police of the evidence showing DNA matches in murder cases.

After that, it would be up to prosecutors to determine if they had enough evidence to charge anybody.

Open-records requests for the names of the five defendants matched to murders would be denied because the investigations could be ongoing, Krebsbach said.

But if someone has been arrested, that is a public record. Even so, Krebsbach said, he might never know if the cases he said were DNA matches actually led to murder prosecutions or convictions.

"Fifteen years ago, DNA that solved the smallest auto burglary would make the front page," Krebsbach said. "Now, with CSI and other television shows, we're not surprised when DNA helps solve a case. Unless I get a subpoena or read about a case in the paper, I usually don't know what happened with it."

Another factor makes his statistical analysis less than definitive.

Cases can be filled with odd twists and turns, and a DNA "match" does not always lead to a conviction, Krebsbach said. In certain instances, what was characterized as a match turned out to exonerate someone, he said.

He briefed Martinez last week about his crime statistics for the year since the state required everybody arrested in a felony to provide DNA samples to police. The very next day, Martinez held her news conference to praise the law as one that had improved public safety.

Even before she became governor in 2011, Martinez pressed for an expansion of Katie's Law.

It is named after Katie Sepich, who was raped and murdered in 2003 in Las Cruces, where Martinez then was the district attorney.

Three years after Sepich's murder, a man named Gabriel Avila was arrested in a robbery. Avila had to provide a DNA sample to police only after he was convicted.

That genetic fingerprint connected 27-year-old Avila to Sepich's rape and murder.

Martinez personally prosecuted Avila for the attack on Sepich, obtaining a guilty plea from him. Then she began working with Sepich's parents to require DNA samples when people were arrested, rather than after they were convicted of a felony.

Her theory was that the availability of DNA early in an investigation would solve more crimes and get dangerous people off the streets more quickly.

State legislators approved the original Katie's Law in 2006, when Democrat Bill Richardson was governor. It required those arrested in a subset of felonies violent crimes such as kidnapping, rape and murder to provide DNA samples.

But Jayann Sepich, Katie's mother, said the law should be used in all felony arrests.

She told of cases across the country in which people arrested for nonviolent crimes such as check fraud were connected to murders, rapes or robberies through DNA.

Sepich has traveled to 27 states to campaign for versions of Katie's Law and testified in more than 30 hearings before state legislatures.

Half of the country's lawmakers have been persuaded by her arguments.

Some version of Katie's Law has been approved in 25 states, including California, Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico. A 26th state, Minnesota, also approved the law but it was struck down on a court challenge.

Sepich, of Carlsbad, said she considered more and better use of DNA samples to be her life's work.

She often cites a California case as proof that up-front DNA testing is best way to find the truth in criminal investigations.

California required DNA samples in felony arrests years before New Mexico did. The system linked a career criminal named Chester Turner to the murders of 10 women.

Just as important, detectives found that a retarded man had been convicted in three of the murders that Turner committed. The innocent man, David Allen Jones, went free in 2004 after serving 12 years in prison.

What is clear about the five murder cases mentioned by Martinez is that the enhanced DNA law has widened the net for criminal investigators in New Mexico.

Krebsbach said the five people matched to the murder cases were arrested for evidence tampering, battery on a police officer, a drug charge, aggravated battery and false imprisonment.

He said the first version of Katie's Law may not have required any of those defendants to provide DNA samples to police.

With more defendants in the database, the chances of solving crimes increases, Jayann Sepich said.

Krebsbach said he was not certain that is happening because his report to Martinez was purely statistical, and that she drew inferences from it.

But Martinez has a different view.

"New Mexico now has one of the toughest versions of Katie's Law in the country, and it's working," she said.