PHILADELPHIA – A drifter arrested in the stranglings of three young women in a gritty city neighborhood was identified by DNA tests that were delayed by a case backlog, but he has no history of violent crime, authorities said Tuesday.
Antonio Rodriguez, 22, the transient being held in the slayings, does have a criminal record: He was jailed on drug charges June 5 and released on bail Aug. 19, said Bob Eskind, a spokesman for the Philadelphia prison system. Rodriguez pleaded guilty Oct. 21 in that case but was immediately paroled and given one year of probation.
"This was just a judgment that was made in court," Eskind said, adding that Rodriguez did not have a history of violent crime.
Rodriguez was arrested Monday in the sexual assaults and strangling deaths of three women in the city's Kensington section late last year. He has not been charged. Lt. Ray Evers, a Philadelphia police spokesman, said he expected charges would be filed soon.
The victims, Elaine Goldberg, Nicole Piacentini and Casey Mahoney, were all in their 20s and had struggled with drug addiction. Their bodies were found between early November and mid-December in vacant lots within a 10-block radius.
The DNA match was delayed by a case backlog and by needed computer upgrades at the DNA testing database, according to Maj. Kenneth F. Hill, director of the state police's Bureau of Forensic Services.
State police had gotten a DNA sample Oct. 25 from Rodriguez as part of standard routine for all felons. That sample was added to the backlog of about 5,000 cases, Hill wrote in a letter to Philadelphia police dated Monday.
They began processing it Dec. 21, and testing was further delayed from Dec. 27 through Jan. 3 because of needed server upgrades, Hill wrote.
About a month earlier, on Nov. 22, Philadelphia police had given state police crime-scene DNA from the stranglings. That was 19 days after the first victim's body was found. The DNA match was announced Monday.
In his letter, Hill said the case backlog at the DNA database is due to vacancies that were slow to be filled because of a hiring freeze. The backlog has resulted in a turnaround time of about 80 days from the receipt of a sample.
A state senator decried the delay Tuesday and called for increased funding for DNA testing to help prevent such a lag in the future.
"Countless people could be hurt or killed while law enforcement and the public wait weeks or months for DNA results," said Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia. "Public safety demands that we do better."
Investigators are re-swabbing Rodriguez for DNA evidence and working on getting a search warrant, Evers said. Police are still trying to determine where Rodriguez lived, but they believe he moved from place to place.
"It wasn't like he was a homeless guy living in a shelter all the time," Evers said, adding that police hoped to search several locations and interview people who knew him. Police do not believe other people were involved.
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