EXCLUSIVE: Detectives search for missing DNA samples

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A cellmate gave a DNA sample in place of serial killer Walter Ellis -- a case that revealed gaping holes in how the justice system tracks DNA. Now, Milwaukee County is trying to fix the flaws.

In Milwaukee, Sheriff's deputies visit homes, searching for individuals who may have forgotten to provide DNA samples. Convicted felons give DNA saliva swabs after sentencing, but sometimes court communication breakdowns prevent that.

Detectives William Cieslik and Kevin Callahan are two officials who try to collect these missing DNA samples.

FOX6 News was recently invited along for a coordinated sweep, focusing on hundreds of cases over the past several years. However, that's only a portion of the number of missing saliva samples in the country.

"We're getting a face to face ID and that helps a long way in the process too," Cieslik said.

That process can be slowed when individuals refuse the voluntary swab. That forces deputies to send in a summons, ordering the individual into court. If a person is ordered into court and he or she is ultimately found guilty of refusing to supply a sample, he or she could spend weeks behind bars.

Officials say this time spent searching for samples could mean long-term criminal breakthroughs.

"Now you have new DNA prints in the pool and they're able to solve cases that you haven't touched in years," Cieslik said.