Until about ten years I was all about technology. In my head, I imagined it saving mankind from itself. Now that I’m a bit older and wiser, I worry we are entering Jurassic Park territory. For those that haven’t seen the movies or read the book, it’s hard to explain that concept. One of the characters, Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Goldblum) and says quite bitterly to John Hammond “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
I don’t remember the line in the book, but it was a very poignant line in the movie. We’ve reached this stage with human DNA. I’m not talking about things like catching The Golden State Rapist/Killer, well, yeah, a little bit…
In the last decade we have begun to perfect technology called “touch DNA”. I’m not real keen on “touch DNA” sampling, I think it leaves too many things to chance. Touch DNA can pull your genetic code from something as small as a single touch. It’s been used to investigate the Zodiac killings as well as several other serial killer cases.
Then we had the case of the Golden State Killer where one of his relatives sent DNA to one of the phenotyping companies and police were able to submit a sample of the Golden Sate Killer’s DNA to see if they found any matches or relatives and low and behold, they did.
Last week, I was introduced to “Snapshot DNA analysis.” Basically, a sample of a suspect’s DNA is entered into a computer and it can generate a probably sketch of you. It was used to develop a sketch in a 19 year old murder case that had gone cold. The sketch produced matched the likeness of someone associated with the victim that was never a suspect.
Here’s where I start to have issues with grey areas of what we should and shouldn’t be allowed to do with DNA. Let’s say the DNA was recovered using “touch DNA sampling.” Touch DNA requires such a small sample that the store clerk who hung something up that was used in a murder, may leave a large enough DNA sample on it that it can be found using Touch DNA sampling.
The article went on with how it was being considered as a possible tool to use in the case of the Long Island Serial killer. Now, I totally agree that if you leave your DNA in the commission of a crime, you have no right to privacy of your DNA. However, what if your DNA is there not because you are the killer, but because you sold the rope to the killer found with the body…. You weren’t a possible suspect. You haven’t got any real ties to the victim. But serial killers are scary because they are usually perpetrated by strangers.
Now suddenly, a sketch of you can be created by a computer to implicate you in the murders. I’ve already had one person tell me, it couldn’t happen that way, your DNA wouldn’t be at a crime scene unless you were involved, but every skin cell shed contains your entire genetic code in it. And each and every one of us shed’s billions of skin cells every week.
As far as I am aware, the Long Island Serial Killer isn’t also a rapist and he preys on prostitutes. Is any DNA evidence gathered in connection with his crimes absolutely guaranteed to have come directly from him and not from someone else?
Even finding a repeating sample on the the LISK’s victims could be meer coincidence. Studies of men who frequent prostitutes have found that they overlap. So Murry might have sex with Jenny, Michelle, and Naomi one week and Fred might have sex with Rachel, Madison, and Naomi. Then Naomi turns up dead on the day when Murry and Fred both spent time with her. Who killed her? I don’t know that a lot of street hookers take showers between customers, meaning DNA from both men might still be viable from Naomi’s dead body. I’ve only ever known one prostitute in my life and she worked out of a massage parlor, but she once told me she could see as many as twelve customers in a single day.
So, yes we can do it, but should we? After all, the FBI and DOJ are now looking at thousands of cases where the suspect was convicted based on bite mark evidence, which has been disproven as an identification technique. especially not a foolproof 1 in a million identifier like it was touted.