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Welcome to The Forensic DNA Testing Blog

This forensic blog is our official forum where DDC staff and clients can post issues, concerns, answers, and questions regarding forensic DNA testing. Please note that all posts and comments are subject to approval by the moderator. Names may be changed to protect the writer's privacy.

June 16th, 2009

Crime scene evidence is often key to identifying perpetrators, and DNA technology has broadened the scope of items that might reveal the wrongdoer. Blood or semen stains, sweat or skin cells on clothing, or saliva left on cigarette butts, bottles or drinking glasses left behind at the crime scene are the common types of evidence that usually help nab the criminal.

In California, a man accused of robbing a bank was identified by DNA from an unlikely source: a fake eyebrow. While Mr. Armando Navarette of Salinas, California, age 22, and an unknown accomplice did escape the bank with $40, 000, he was found guilty on 2 counts of armed robbery and one count of burglary. The fake eyebrow, used as part of his disguise, had fallen off as he made his escape. His attorney has requested a new trial.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 181 user reviews.

June 12th, 2009

DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) has appointed Marco Scarpetta, PhD, as Laboratory Director. Dr. Scarpetta brings more than 15 years of experience and leadership in the forensic and paternity DNA testing fields.

Dr. Scarpetta previously held the position of Laboratory Director at Orchid Cellmark. The new appointment was made by Dr. Ellen Moscovitz, President and CEO of DDC, who stated, “We couldn’t be more pleased by the addition of Dr. Scarpetta to our already-leading team of laboratory professionals internationally recognized for their expertise and dedication to the field of DNA testing.”

Dr. Scarpetta joins the DDC team of PhD scientists led by Dr. Michael Baird, Associate Vice President and Laboratory Director. Dr. Baird stated, “With the addition of Dr. Scarpetta, DDC will continue in its position as the leading provider of private DNA testing services while upholding the highest level of quality and service available in the industry today.” Dr. Baird is the current Chairman of the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) Relationship Testing Accreditation Program.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 249 user reviews.

June 12th, 2009

According to the Associated Press, the New York State Commission on Forensic Sciences recently voted to allow forensic scientists to inform New York police departments when DNA collected at a crime scene is a near match to a convicted criminal in the state database. This is being termed by authorities as an “investigative lead” rather than a “DNA hit.” Denise O’Donnell, the commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services reports that partial matches, which indicate that the perpetrator is likely a relative of the near match in the database, are infrequent, but could serve to point to the actual criminal.

Current New York regulations require that any DNA evidence collected from a crime, such as a rape or homicide, must match the database exactly. New York’s database contains nearly 341, 000 DNA profiles of offenders. Because the proposed regulation is subject to public comment, the process to finalize the change may take months to implement. Opponents to the law change, such as the New York Civil Liberties Union, consider the proposed policy a “miscarriage of justice” that threatens privacy and due process rights. However, the potential to solve crime has driven support for the change. In fact, in North Carolina, Darryl Hunt spent 19 years in prison, wrongfully convicted of a rape and murder. When a DNA databank search partially matched a convicted felon, that inmate’s brother later confessed to the crime for which Mr. Hunt served time.

In addition to the dispute over individual rights, this issue presents an ethical dilemma for some crime lab scientists who identify these DNA near matches. If their state requires perfect matches, and they think an inmate’s relative is almost certainly a match to evidence, they may feel compelled to report the possible lead. But, is the effort to solve the crime worth the cost of implicating someone in a criminal investigation only because their DNA is a near match to the perpetrator? The debate continues…

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 259 user reviews.

March 25th, 2009

The forensics laboratory at DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) enjoyed a special visit on Thursday March 19, 2009 from Mr. Robert McClendon and Mr. Joseph Fears of Columbus, OH. These men were wrongly convicted and then imprisoned 18 and 25 years respectively for crimes that DNA testing proved they did not commit.

Since 2007, DDC has committed to provide pro bono DNA testing in Ohio cases identified by the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) as having legitimate claims of innocence. (Note: DDC has reduced rates for other states’ Innocence Projects.) Mr. McClendon’s innocence was proven in August 2008 when DDC completed the Y-STR testing that provided the ultimate proof that secured his release. Mr. Fears’ release this month resulted after the Franklin County Prosecutor said McClendon’s case made such a great impact on him that he ordered a thorough review of all evidence in old cases. The evidence in Fears’ case was found and testing proved that he was also innocent.

DDC’s President and CEO, Dr. Ellen Moscovitz, welcomed the exonerees warmly into DDC’s facility and presented them with tokens of admiration for their courage and perseverance. She expressed to the guests, “We are proud to provide the scientific expertise that can ensure justice. It is a privilege to meet the people on whose cases DDC worked because we realize that it’s not just a specimen, it’s a life.”

Joining Mr. McClendon and Mr. Fears at the DDC lab visit was their legal team from the University of Cincinnati, home to the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP). The OIP lawyers accompanied Mr. McClendon and Mr. Fears as they took a close look at the technology and equipment. They also met the analysts and support staff that helped to make their freedom a reality, led by Dr. Julie Heinig, DDC’s Assistant Laboratory Director in charge of Forensics and who oversaw the DNA testing in McClendon’s case.

OIP Faculty Director, Mark Godsey, expressed the magnitude of DDC’s commitment to justice by saying, “Since this movement started 15 years ago, no other lab has stepped up to this level in any other state. There has been no other example of corporate citizenship rising to this level.” Too often, inmates or their families cannot afford DNA testing, even if the state will release the evidence that could prove their innocence. In Ohio, DDC has removed that barrier to justice.

McClendon and Fears visited the actual forensic laboratory where the samples were examined and analyzed. When Dr. Heinig showed McClendon the exact microscope used to discover the spermatozoa that excluded him as the contributor to the evidence, tears misted their eyes as they embraced. Next, Dr. Heinig presented the gene fragment analyzer that processed the Y-STR markers that ultimately proved McClendon’s innocence. He struggled to express his appreciation, saying, “I am humbled by this experience. I know that this could not have happened without a lot of folks working together.” He added, “Thank God for DNA!”

The morning concluded with a presentation to DDC employees anxious to hear Mr. McClendon and Mr. Fears share some of their experiences and answer questions. McClendon explained that if not for the efforts of DDC, as well as the OIP and the Columbus Dispatch’s investigative series, “Test of Convictions, ” he would probably still be in prison, serving his sentence until 2013. Mr. Fears echoed these sentiments, “I am flabbergasted. I had no idea of all the work involved to clear just one man.”

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 219 user reviews.

March 5th, 2009

Physical evidence left at a crime scene is often used to match a suspect’s DNA to the evidence, placing that suspect at the crime scene. But what if there is no suspect, and the DNA evidence yields no “hits” or matches in CODIS (Combined DNA Index System)? Investigators usually catalog the DNA evidence and explore other clues to the crime. However, a radical new study of genes responsible for skin pigmentation disorders offers new possibilities for predicting physical characteristics from crime scene evidence that may help criminal investigations. Read the rest of this entry »

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 292 user reviews.

February 24th, 2009

A report published February 18 by the National Academy of Sciences found that although there are “scores of talented and dedicated people serving the forensic community, […] they are often constrained by the lack of adequate resources, sound policies, and national support.” Due to these constraints, the study noted that some forensic techniques used in the U.S. crime laboratory system have evolved largely outside of scientific review and standardization, with the notable exception of DNA analysis.

The 2-year congressionally mandated study revealed problems including the lack of national standards for laboratory performance and training, as well as the absence of vigorous validation studies on commonly accepted forensic methods such as fingerprint and toolmark analysis. Read the rest of this entry »

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 153 user reviews.

February 6th, 2009

DNA evidence presented in a Toledo, Ohio, murder trial proved to be insufficient proof for a conviction, and jury members deliberated only 4 hours to acquit Darin Armstrong in the murder case of Marc LaShawn Draper. An expert review by DDC’s forensic DNA scientist, Dr. Julie Heinig, provided insights that led to the acquittal.

Mr. Armstrong’s defense attorney, Mark Geudtner, retained the services of Dr. Heinig to review the DNA testing completed by the state’s laboratory. He stated, “[Dr. Heinig’s] analysis and insights regarding the DNA test results in this case were extremely helpful to me and enabled me to successfully cross-examine the State’s DNA expert and to teach the jury the true significance (and limits) of the DNA evidence.” Read the rest of this entry »

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 286 user reviews.

December 31st, 2008

Good news was reported earlier this month for law enforcement agencies in Missouri and South Carolina when officials announced that funding had been approved to build a crime lab in each state.

The first forensics lab will be located in Tulsa Missouri and will be a joint venture between the city of Tulsa and Oklahoma State University. Construction is expected to begin in the spring and should be completed by March 2010. The five-story, 1 million square foot facility, will house both law enforcement officials and students from the University’s medical college. Police will use the new building for storing property and forensic evidence as well as establishing a much larger and more state of the art forensics laboratory. The medical college will occupy the remaining space with forensic science classrooms, research labs, and faculty offices. In addition, OSU will also use the building for biomedical science research. Officials hope that the new facilities will help ease case backlog for law enforcement while providing a unique partnership that benefits students who want a career in the field of scientific research. Read the rest of this entry »

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 186 user reviews.

December 31st, 2008

As 2008 comes to an end, we look back at a few of the 24 exoneration cases that occurred throughout the year as a result of forensic DNA testing. For the first time in many years, these exonerees will be spending the holidays at home. Fourteen of these have been officially exonerated, while at least 10 more wait for their exonerations to become official. Read the rest of this entry »

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 200 user reviews.

December 29th, 2008

According to The Washington Times, on Jan. 9, 2009 the federal government will begin collecting DNA samples from anyone arrested on federal charges or immigrants detained by the Homeland Security Dept. Currently, federal policy requires that DNA samples get collected only if the arrestees are convicted of the crimes. The new policy would add an estimated 1.2 million samples to the 6.2 million DNA samples currently maintained in the FBI convicted defender database. Thirteen states already have laws that require DNA samples from all arrestees, and under this change, an estimated 140, 000 additional felony arrests will occur under these new guidelines. However, the bulk of the samples are expected from the illegal immigrants detained by the Homeland Security Dept. Records show that Border Patrol and other agencies detained approximately 1.2 million immigrants in 2006. Read the rest of this entry »

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 245 user reviews.



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