- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

A swab of saliva taken from Derrick Todd Lee last month linked his DNA to five slayings in southern Louisiana, leading to his arrest in Atlanta and appearing to end the hunt for a suspect in the serial killings.

While many expressed elation about the use of such an investigative tool, some additional situations have authorities — law enforcement, the judiciary and others — wondering how the technology can and should be utilized.

For instance, should everyday citizens be forced to submit to DNA tests, with no or little provocation? And what happens to the results?

Shannon Kohler, 45, a welder, was one of more than 1,000 men, most of whom were white, asked to allow their DNA to be taken a few months ago when the Louisiana serial-killer task force gained full steam.

Mr. Kohler refused.

The police went to court, filed an affidavit that they had two tipsters who mentioned Mr. Kohler as “someone you should check out,” and they were allowed to forcibly take the sample.

Now Mr. Kohler is suing to have his sample returned.

“If they had considered him a real suspect, they would have searched his house for bloody clothes, for knives or souvenirs,” Baton Rouge lawyer Dennis Whelan said yesterday. “All they wanted was to swab his mouth.

“I think they just got angry when he refused,” Mr. Whelan added. “You know how these things work.”

Mr. Whelan, a veteran defense attorney, said his plea, filed May 23, “is a routine motion to get back your property that’s been taken as a result of a search warrant.”

Since 1997, Louisiana law has provided that samples can be drawn from anyone arrested in connection with or convicted of a felony sex offense or a number of other crimes, including murder.

The DNA samples later are forwarded to a state police database and on to the FBI’s national DNA database.

Mr. Kohler had been convicted of a 1982 burglary, but explained to police that he had been pardoned in 1995.

He said his reputation was seriously damaged when the search warrant — en route to the taking of his DNA — was made public.

He said he had worked to improve his reputation.

“In the court of public opinion there are no rules of evidence,” he said. “Every time you mention anything, that’s just one more thing for people who know nothing about me, the law or the case, to start speculating.”

Mr. Lee, arrested May 27, had provided a DNA sample May 5 at the request of the serial-killer task force. He had a checkered background of arrests and convictions for violence against women, burglary, stalking and criminal trespass, and had been suspected in a homicide and a disappearance in Zachary, La., a suburb of Baton Rouge.

A second man who agreed to allow his DNA to be taken is Steve Schmidt, 58, a community college teacher. He said he was pressured to submit the sample and plans legal action similar to Mr. Kohler’s.

“I want my DNA back,” he told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “Whatever records they’ve got of mine, I want them back They had my good faith, and I want theirs in return. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Mr. Schmidt said police told him he was a suspect because two women in a coffee shop near where some of the killings had occurred reported that he was “acting nervous” as he sat smoking and drinking coffee.

He said police could have checked out his whereabouts at the time of some of the slayings and cleared him quickly.

Mr. Whalen said the task force should have known his client, Mr. Kohler, wasn’t a suspect, because a bloody footprint of size 10 or 11 had been recovered at the scene.

“[Mr. Kohler] wears a size 14,” he said.

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