College Essay The history of DNA use for forensic cases already spans more than a decade. The first cases into which DNA evidence was brought in were in England. The first case of using DNA-related evidence in Arizona courts was the 1988 murder of Jennifer Wilson by Richard Bible near Flagstaff. Blood found on the back of Bible’s plaid shirt was identified through DNA testing as Jennifer’s blood — with a probability of 14 billion-to-1. Bible was subsequently convicted. This conviction was upheld unanimously by the Arizona Supreme Court. This together with other legal opinions elsewhere have paved the way for further use of DNA-related evidence in trials.
National and international scrutiny of this method has occurred during the OJ Simpson trial in the mid-nineties. While many uncertainties may remain after the trial, the admissibility and validity of DNA evidence in courts has clearly been established. DNA fingerprinting can also be utilized to solve paternity questions. In one case it was even found that the child of whom the father was in dispute was not the biological son of his mother. It was suspected that an inadvertant swap of kids had occurred in the hospital.
In another case, upon in-vitro fertilization sperm vials appeared to have been swapped and a baby could be shown to have a biological father different from the spouse of his mother. Underlying today’s debate was the case of Earl Washington Jr., who nearly was executed for his conviction in the 1982 rape and murder of a Culpeper woman. Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) pardoned him of that crime in October after new DNA testing found no trace of him at the scene.
Now as another century nears a close, DNA fingerprinting is extending the reach of forensic investigation. Twelve years after first being introduced in the courtroom, genetic profiling is playing an increasingly critical role in a wide range of investigations. Consider this: a DNA analysis of saliva from an envelope flap sealed the circumstantial case against World Trade Center bombing suspect Nidal Ayyad. A year ago, it was the DNA on Monica Lewinskys blue dress that pushed President Clinton to admit an inappropriate relationship with the former White House intern. And most recently, authorities are using DNA testing to try to tie alleged Railway Killer Angel Maturino Resendiz to several slayings around the country. DNA evidence could help rewrite criminal history.
Boston police hope that DNA samples will help them prove once and for all whether Albert DeSalvo really was the Boston Strangler. Convicted Atlanta child killer Wayne Williams and Jeffrey MacDonald the former Green Beret convicted of killing his family in the Fatal Vision murders are also pinning their hopes for freedom on DNA evidence. They say the genetic testing will prove that theyre innocent. A Powerful Tool Instead of relying solely on intact fingerprints to identify suspects, scientists now use deoxyribonucleic acid, more widely known as DNA, which contains chemical building blocks that vary from person to person, to identify individuals with virtual certainty. The latest technology can create a genetic profile of a suspect using only the saliva left on an envelope or a hair in a victims hand. The FBI is currently in the process of building a national databank of DNA profiles similar in scope to its national fingerprint file.
Although only 14 states are now linked to the national database, the FBI aims to link all the states in a year or so. Already, all 50 states collect DNA samples from convicted sex offenders. Some states collect DNA from all violent convicts, and four others collect samples from all felons. And the science isnt just putting criminals away. So far, DNA evidence has exonerated scores of wrongly convicted defendants.
The Innocence Project, a program run by defense lawyers Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck that challenges convictions with DNA evidence, has helped free more than three dozen people from prison. Warming Cold Cases DNA samples have helped solve crimes that had no other investigative leads. During the last six months in Virginia alone, DNA has helped solve 33 rape and murder cases that previously had no suspects. But the crime-solving potential of DNA is nowhere near being maximized by the states due to limitations in staffing and resources, some say. We have only scratched the surface in using this application, says Paul Ferrara, the director of the Virginia Division of Forensic Science.
I foresee, in the next couple years, that police will routinely collect the most minute pieces of evidence from a crime scene, evidence smaller than the naked eye can even detect and see, bring it to a lab and a few hours later walk away with the name of the perpetrator. And the future holds promise of even more effective DNA technology. The San Diego-based company Nanogen is developing a device to allow police to perform DNA analyses right at a crime scene. A DNA sample can be placed in the device, about the size of a 3 x 5-index card, analyzed on the spot and computer-checked against profiles in a remote database. The device could be in police cars within two years.
While the science of DNA profiling is now almost unquestioned even by its opponents how genetic information is collected and stored is the subject of much debate. Many civil libertarians and bioethicists express concern about the widespread collection of genetic information. What will the information be used for? Who will have access to the information? Does it constitute unreasonable search and seizure? Further, as states grapple with an overwhelming backlog of DNA samples 1.5 million felons are not yet in the databanks politicians must decide how much resources should be dedicated to fulfilling the goal of a national DNA network. Next up, ABCNEWS.com takes a look at the ethical debate over the role of DNA testing in solving crimes. Close Call From the moment the town of Vincennes, Ind., learned of the brutal rape and slaying of college student Brook Elizabeth Baker in September 1997, a cloud of suspicion hung over her landlord Mike Nardine. University students told television reporters that they believed the 45-year-old campus police officer was guilty.
A psychic on a nationally-broadcast television talk show told the audience that the landlord did it. The town that has been home to three generations of Nardines became increasingly hostile. Although no charges had been filed against him, Nardine felt the stares and heard the whispers of his neighbors. For almost two years, he waited for police to make an arrest in the case. Nardine cooperated with investigators and even offered his DNA for testing. But it wasnt until another student was killed that police apprehended a former college student and connected his DNA to the Baker crime scene.
Just this month, the former student was arrested, and at least for now, Nardine has been removed from the suspect list. Without the DNA, I always thought there might have been the possibility that I could have been charged, Nardine said. I know people are in prison today who have probably not done the crime but have been blackballed. I was thankful there was DNA. You just dont know what could have happened.
Geraldine Sealey Science.