Familial DNA: The Savior for Cold Cases?
Controversial New Investigative Technique
By: Joseph L. Giacalone
The use of familial DNA has already proven to be effective, but controversial. LAPD Cold Case detectives arrested an alleged serial killer back in July 2010 based on familial DNA. In that case, the DNA submitted from crime scenes was uploaded into CODIS and produced a potential match. Then, detective work took over. Based on dates of the crimes, the suspicion quickly fell on the close match’s father. The detectives conducted surveillance on the subject in an attempt to covertly obtain the man’s DNA. Their persistence paid off when the subject discarded a piece of pizza. The DNA recovered from the pizza was a direct match to the profile found at the crime scenes. The man was subsequently arrested and is awaiting trial.
In addition to the LAPD example, Cold case detectives can use this technique in other ways. For example, a familial DNA match provides a person that has a brother close in age. Detectives can then attempt to satisfy the elements of MOM, Means, Opportunity and Motive, which are needed for a suspect. Armed with this information, the brother can be asked to come to the station house to answer some questions or his photo can be used in a photo array. The photo array may prove to be the path of least resistance.
With this new tool, we may see an increase in clearance rates of old homicide statistics as well as help in missing person and found body cases. Even if jurisdictions do not allow this method to be used to identify suspects, no one can argue about using it on found body cases. This technique can provide closure for those families that have been haunted by the disappearance of their family members.
Familial DNA may prove to be a great tool for very difficult cold cases because it may provide a springboard to launch an old investigation and at the very least a way to identify found bodies. As the list of crimes that require a DNA sample upon conviction grows, we may see a rapid expansion of the technique throughout the nation. Its potential cannot be ignored for very long.