Family DNA Search Might Have Busted Rapist Earlier

7:21 PM, Mar 8, 2011   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- Virginia will likely very soon become the third state in the country where the cops have a new saying: "Don't do the crime if your brother's doing time."

Virginia's Department of Forensic Sciences is tweaking software  that would allow it to sort through its database of DNA collected from criminals and find relatives of suspects who left DNA at crime scenes.

9NEWS NOW has learned the brother of the alleged East Coast Rapist is serving time for murder in Maryland. Which means Maryland authorities have collected a sample of his DNA. The brother's DNA might have led police to Aaron Thomas years ago.

When detectives fished up Aaron Thomas' cigarette butt, they say the DNA from his saliva exactly matched the DNA he left behind after raping 17 women. Prosecutors say something called "familial DNA searching" might have led to a NEAR match to his brother in a Maryland prison and broken the case long ago.

"I think arrest would have been made much sooner than it was," says Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert.

The software Virginia is analyzing should allow forensic scientists to take a sample of DNA from a crime scene and come up with near matches from the 300,000 samples of DNA in the Commonwealth's criminal database: Maybe to the suspect's brother or sister, mother or father, or even more distant relatives.

"You may come up with a list of 100, 150 names. Or 50 names. You don't know. You have to determine how many of those people you are going to look at and take on to step two," says Pete Marone, Director of the Department of Forensic Sciences.

Step Two would be more analysis and a stronger correlation of the DNA. Step Three would be shoe leather police work to try and narrow the number of possible relatives. 

In California, familial DNA testing has already led to the arrest of the so-called Grim Sleeper, who's charged with murdering 10 women over more than two decades. In Kansas, it helped bust the BTK Killer, who bound, tortured and killed nearly a dozen women.

The parents of Morgan Harrington, the murdered Virginia Tech student, want it used to find her killer.

Virginia's going ahead -- but both Maryland and D.C. ban the testing, worried it's TOO intrusive.

"To me, I look at whether the science is doable," says Marone. "Can we do it scientifically? And the answer is yes. It can be done now."

The D.A. in Denver, Colorado is one of the fiercest supporters of familial DNA searches. He points to at least 31 rape and murder cases worldwide busted with good police work and familial searches of DNA databases.

He's given Virginia his software, and the director of the Department of Forensic Sciences says he expects to start using it "sooner rather than later."

There's a bill in Congress to take familial searches nationwide, despite a lot of hesitation in a lot of states.

Even supporters like Virginia's Pete Marone say a nationwide database search might hit on 100,000 names -- and he says that might simply be too much for investigators to handle.

Written by Bruce Leshan

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