DNA testing should help cops crack local ‘cold cases'

Kaieteur News
November 13, 2006

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A few weeks ago, a popular crime channel highlighted a case in the United States in which a White couple was gunned down in a wooded area. The killer had apparently made off with their pickup.

Detectives found the victims' blood, and blood belonging to someone else at the crime scene. They also found an identification card nearby. That card belonged to an African American male with a long criminal record.

The detectives tracked the man to his home and found the murdered couple's pickup parked outside.

During questioning, the suspect denied killing the couple and stealing their vehicle. Asked how his identification card ended up at the murder scene, the man replied that he was always losing his documents.

Just as the police were leaving with the suspect and the stolen pickup, a White male, who lived in the same apartment building, came up to them and said that the pickup was his.

The man claimed that he had bought the pickup from the couple a few days before they were murdered.

Police checked the man's background and discovered that he, too, had a criminal record. They requested that both men submit themselves to DNA testing to see if their blood matched that found at the crime scene.

The African-American suspect agreed to the DNA testing, which revealed that the blood at the scene was not his. However, the White male refused to submit to DNA testing, and the police had no option but to release him.

But they were not finished with the suspect.

A team of detectives began to trail the man in the hope that he would unwittingly leave a trace of his DNA on a beer bottle or cigarette for them to examine.

Eventually, after several days of surveillance, the suspect bought some ice cream, which he ate with a wooden spoon.

He then threw the cup and spoon in a trash can.

The detectives retrieved the items and were elated when laboratory tests matched DNA samples from the wooden spoon with the DNA from the unknown blood samples at the murder scene.

Police concluded that he had murdered the couple and stolen their pickup, after planting the other man's identification card at the crime scene.

The suspect was charged and eventually convicted.

What would the outcome have been had it occurred in a country like Guyana , where no DNA testing is done in murder cases?

It is quite possible that the first suspect would have been charged and even convicted, since he had a criminal record, his identification card was found at the scene of the crime, and the victims' pickup was found parked near his home.

It is therefore welcome news that the Guyana Police Force is finally setting up a laboratory for DNA and other forensic testing.

And there are many local murder cases that remain unsolved because of a lack of these facilities, and also because of a reluctance to use DNA evidence.

In February 27, 1997, Felicity Holder, an 11-year-old schoolgirl, was found dead in the bathroom of her great-aunt's home at Amelia's Ward, Linden .

At first glance it appeared that she had hanged herself with a towel. However, an autopsy revealed that she had been strangled and sexually assaulted.

Police eventually charged a 58-year-old occupant of the house, and the man was convicted. However, in 2004, the conviction was overturned and the accused was freed.

What is interesting about this case is that one of Guyana 's leading pathologists, Dr. Edward Simon, had taken samples for DNA testing from the victim.

A few days after the acquittal, Dr. Simon revealed the shocking fate of the precious samples.

Dr. Simon recalled that he had sealed the samples and turned them over to the police.

The intention was that the specimens would be sent for DNA testing in Dade County Forensic Laboratory in Miami , Florida .

But when time passed and he received no feedback from the police about the DNA results, Dr, Simon began to ask questions of his own.

It was then that he learnt that the samples had never left Guyana after all.

“Some senior police official said that ‘ Guyana poor and we don't have the money to waste on that type of thing.'

“No specimens were sent to any laboratory, so we could not have the DNA evidence to present in court.

Through DNA testing, we would have been able to say who killed her (Felicity Holder). Those samples would have shown if the man accused of her murder actually had sex with her, and he could not have doubted it.”

To their credit, though, local police did attempt to introduce DNA testing in the infamous Monica Reece murder case.

On Good Friday, 1993, Reece, a pretty security guard, was murdered and dumped from a pickup in Main Street .

Back then, only a few people possessed such vehicles. Hair and semen samples were taken from the victim, and samples of hair were also reportedly taken from several pickups that were seized and checked for clues.

Several months after her death, Reece's body was exhumed and attempts made to collect DNA samples.

The forensic evidence was sent overseas but the results were ‘inconclusive.'

The gradual use of scientific evidence by local police is already bearing fruit. Thanks to ballistic testing, detectives have been able to link several suspects to the spate of execution-style killings that the recent crime wave has spawned.

Perhaps, in the very near future, through the introduction of DNA evidence, the killers in other ‘cold cases' will finally be brought to justice.