Virginia to begin using familial DNA searches

By Andy Jenks - bio | email | facebook

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – A sometimes controversial technique for tracking down criminal suspects is set to begin in Virginia. Monday, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced the Virginia Department of Forensic Science will begin using familial DNA searches.

By law, if you're arrested or convicted for certain crimes, you must give the state database a DNA sample. Now, during times of criminal investigations, scientists may search that database to find relatives of people wanted for crimes.

By taking DNA evidence from a crime scene, and then making partial matches with relatives who are in the state's database for other reasons, investigators get put on the right track.

Pete Marone is with the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.

"They might find out who the families are, who the family member is, were they in the right place at the right  time, so forth...and all that stuff would be done without knocking on somebody's door and asking them," Marone said.

Last November in Richmond, Morgan Harrington's father, Dan, told lawmakers familial DNA searches would help locate his daughter's killer.

"Familial DNA testing would be a new and valuable tool in solving not only my daughter's case, but also the scores of other horrible crimes that have remained open," Harrington said last year.

Virginia now becomes the third state to use familial DNA searching, following California and Colorado.

Virginia was pitched on the idea last year by Denver's District Attorney, Mitch Morrissey, who said familial searches can help lead to exact DNA matches.

"Familial searching can help you save time, help you save money, and help you save future victims," Morrissey told lawmakers last year.

While some states have privacy concerns, prosecutors argue otherwise. For example, the Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney said last week familial DNA would've helped catch the "East Coast Rapist" years ago.

For now, the familial DNA technique will be limited to solving only violent crimes, but there's no guarantee a suspect will be caught every time it's used.

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