Cold Case DNA

The National Institute of Justice is now providing grants to help solve more violent crimes with DNA evidence.

One of the year's greatest mysteries has finally been solved. It's now official. Larry Birkhead is baby Dannielynn's father. Okay, great. Maybe now I can get back to watching real news again instead of being bombarded by pictures and stories of drug, sex and alcohol abuse that surrounded this buxom, blond, overweight and under-talented wacko.

This is not to say that there is no place in the civil law for DNA, one of mankind's greatest scientific breakthroughs. It sure beats the way things were done 100 years ago. "Oh look, the baby has his eyes."

Since this miraculous DNA Genie came out of the box, it has been used not only to establish paternity, but also to diagnose inherited disorders in both prenatal and newborn babies, to develop cures for inherited disorders, and to establish a means of personal identification, such as the program now being used by our military for casualty identification. But, from a criminal investigator's point of view, the most amazing thing about the advances in DNA is the ability to link suspects to biological evidence--blood or semen stains, hair, or items of clothing--found at the scene of a crime, even dozens of years after the crime.

Law enforcement is not always the first to recognize, or take advantage of investigative innovations. Sometimes the private sector leads the way. Take, for example The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School. Most cops remember Barry Scheck from the O.J. trial, but The Innocence Project was established to assist prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing. According to The Innocence Project's web site, "194 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 14 who served time on death row. These people served an average of 12 years in prison before exoneration and release."

Meanwhile, police departments have not been sitting by idly. Cold case squads have popped up around the country, reviewing old cases and submitting old evidence samples for analysis with modern DNA techniques, and with great success.

The Ouachita Parish (LA) Sheriff's Department carried out a very recent successful cold case DNA investigation with the arrest of 48-year old Anthony Wilson. Wilson was arrested for the brutal rape and murder of 19 year old Kathy Whorton on April 4, 1981, .

I spoke with Major Royce Toney, a 32-year veteran of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Department, to get the inside scoop on this case. Maj. Toney told me that he was thrilled at the results of this cold case investigation, even though he was in the middle of the "two worst days in my life, trying to put together the evidence and facts from 26 years ago."

According to Maj. Toney, there had been a series of three similar incidents that occurred within an 18-month period covering 1980-1981, in and around the area of what is now the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM). The victims were all young white females who were driving alone in their cars when they were bumped from behind by another car. Two of the victims got out of their cars, apparently thinking that they had been involved in an automobile accident, only to be kidnapped, raped, shot in the head with a .22 caliber pistol, and dumped, one within Monroe city limits, and the other in Ouachita Parish. The third victim did not get out of her car, but instead tried to drive away, only to be found shot in the head near her car as she was apparently trying to flee on foot.

Kathy Whorton was the victim who was found dumped in Ouachita Parish. According to Maj. Toney, a male pubic hair and semen were recovered from the victim's panties and clothing, but at the time the only scientific method of identification was blood typing. The examination of this evidence led investigators to believe that they were looking for a black male suspect.

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