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Biological evidence that eventually led to arrests in decades-old Bay Area killings was readily available years earlier but languished untested in police evidence labs, according to a Bay Area News Group investigation.

Blood found on the nightgown of a 1983 homicide victim linked in 2016 to Sherill Smothers, 55, sat in a crime lab for six years before it was tested, for example. And the arrest in 2015 of lifelong criminal William “Wild Bill” Huff for killings in 1987 and 1993 could have happened as early as 2006 when he went to prison for violating parole, if key DNA evidence had been tested at the time.

Several retired Contra Costa County homicide investigators contacted by this newspaper say the wait was typical in cold case killings, which were explicitly given a lower priority than more recent homicide investigations.

“When I was lab director, we had direction from above that cold cases were not to be prioritized, let’s put it that way,” said Paul Holes, a former Contra Costa chief of forensics. “So they would sit. … That led to some delays in catching Huff earlier, which could have been done if the technology had been employed earlier.”

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