Beyond CODIS

The changing face of forensic DNA analysis


He says common sense dictated that authorities develop a description from both the public's recollection and DNA evidence found at the crime scene. DNAPrint confirmed detectives' findings regarding opening the investigation to various suspect types, while eyewitness accounts had sent authorities in a different direction. "Developing more detailed discriminating power from evidence left by a perpetrator at a crime scene is the next wave in solving and preventing future crime," he says.

In December 2004, Lee was formally sentenced to death, and he is now sitting on death row while his attorneys churn out appeals.

Unknown victim

In the Mammoth Lakes case, skull shape and dental analysis originally indicated Southeast Asian or Native American, but the victim's small stature (4 feet 6 inches to 4 feet 9 inches, based on the bones) made it appear more likely she was Asian.

Forest service employees recall a Caucasian man, approximately 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing about 180 pounds, and a very tiny "Asian-looking" woman talking with them in the fall of 2002.

Sgt. Paul Dostie with the Mammoth Lakes Police Department then began a forensic journey. He employed every type of technology available, including traditional and experimental techniques. DNAPrint's ancestry analysis determined the victim to be 100-percent Native American, not Asian. Subsequent mitochondrial testing by an independent laboratory confirmed that result. Further hair, teeth and bone testing determined the victim was probably a Zapotec Indian from Oaxaca, Mexico, and was likely in California about two years before she died. Skull reconstruction based on known measurements from Zapotec research remarkably matched the artist's drawings based upon descriptions provided by the forest service employees.

The combined technologies led to what investigators now believe are accurate representations of the physical appearance of a Native American woman. The case is ongoing. Because the couple is so unique, investigators feel media exposure will help lead to identification.

Dostie is hopeful about emerging technology. "We are just scratching the surface of what DNA can tell us," he says. "Ancestry DNA analysis gives us investigative clues, such as to which major population group a victim or suspect may belong and what they may look like. Unless we explore these new technologies and get input from investigators, the improvements will be slower."

Narrowing the field

In the United Kingdom, the Metropolitan Police Service in London is involved with Operation Minstead, an ongoing investigation seeking to identify a rapist who has been attacking elderly victims, predominantly women, across southeast London for the last 16 years.

The DNA samples taken from each crime scene did not match anything in the United Kingdom national database. It was believed the offender was black, between 25 to 45 years old, with a link to south London. These, and many other facts, including gaps in offending and a knowledge of the elderly, led to the identification of 24,000 people of interest.

What else could the suspect's DNA determine? Leading Operation Minstead, DSU Simon Morgan, senior investigating officer for the London Metropolitan Police, asked DNAPrint to assist in 2004.

Ancestry DNA analysis confirmed the offender was indeed black, but the mix of 12 percent Native American and 6 percent white European clearly indicated a Caribbean ancestry. From an investigative point of view, that group now can be prioritized ahead of the African, Asian and Dark European groups. The short list contains about 1,500 people of interest.

Morgan sees future success in ancestry DNA analysis. "If there is DNA and a question over the suspect's description or ethnicity, then this technique should be considered," he says. "As the type of information available expands, there should be even wider use. With time, I expect the processes will develop and become more refined, and the accuracy of the information also will improve. Other features such as skin, hair and eye color are promised.

"Databases like CODIS put names to crime stains," he says. "Ancestral DNA provides investigative leads when your offender is not in the database."

Privacy and profiling

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