Who Knew? DNA Isn’t Always Reliable

GeorgiaLeeLang016DNA evidence has proven to be a godsend for police investigators and a nightmare for criminals, whose skin, hair, blood, and other bodily fluids can provide damning proof of their involvement in criminal cases, usually involving sexual assault and homicide.

Florida rapist, Tommie Lee Andrews, has the ignominious distinction of being the first offender in the United States to be convicted as a result of DNA evidence. DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid, contains a genetic blueprint that  unequivocally identifies each person, with the exception of identical twins, who share the same DNA profile. Two years after Mr. Andrews’ conviction, a Virginia killer, Timothy Wilson Spencer, nicknamed the “South Side Strangler” was sentenced to death in 1987 after DNA linked him to multiple rapes and murders in Virginia.

The infamous “Green River Killer”, Gary Ridgeway, who murdered 49 women in the Seattle/Tacoma area in the 1980’s and 1990’s, mostly prostitutes and runaways, was eventually caught through DNA.  He plead guilty after learning that police had definitively confirmed that sperm on several of this victims matched his DNA. He later confessed to another dozen murders.

That DNA evidence initially baffled jurors is best illustrated by the 1995 murder trial of OJ Simpson, where despite unimpeachable blood evidence a jury acquitted Mr. Simpson of the murders of his former wife and her friend Ron Goldman. The public outcry of his acquittals underscored the public’s new understanding of the science behind DNA.

However, Scientific American reports in their June 2016 journal that DNA evidence, thought to be foolproof, recently implicated an innocent man, where “touch” DNA was used as evidence of his involvement in a murder.

Lukis Anderson, a homeless man in California, was charged with the murder of Silicon Valley multi-millionaire Raveesh Kumra based on DNA evidence. While Anderson’s DNA was found on Mr. Kumra, his alibi was rock-solid. At the time of the murder Mr. Anderson had been drunk, near comatose, and in hospital under medical supervision.

How is that possible you say? Anderson’s legal team discovered that the paramedics who arrived at the murder victim’s home had also treated Mr. Anderson earlier that day and inadvertently “planted” his DNA at the murder crime scene. While this is an isolated case, it shows that blindly relying on DNA, particularly from skin cells, carries with it a significant risk.

Mr. Anderson was arrested and spent more than five months in jail after he was connected to the slaying of Mr. Kumra. Eventually two Oakland gang members and a prostitute were charged in the murder which occurred during a home invasion at the victim’s mansion.

Law-enforcement agencies around the world are assembling DNA databases, which have yielded matches that investigators may otherwise have missed. The FBI now has DNA records on more than 5 million convicted offenders, and sex offenders in all 50 states are required to submit DNA samples to law enforcement.

Canada’s DNA Bank originated in 2000 and has two categories: DNA collected from crime scenes, and DNA taken from convicted offenders who have been subject  to court orders permitting the RCMP to take DNA samples.

Government records show that over 237,000 DNA profiles are in the convicted offender category and more than 71,000 are in the crime scene bank.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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