- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2011

Virginia law-enforcement agencies now have another way to solve cases, searching DNA databases to match evidence at a crime scene with the DNA of family members of a suspected criminal.

“This new technology will allow forensic experts to develop leads otherwise unavailable to law enforcement officers that can expedite the identification of criminals in certain cases and can get these offenders off the streets,” Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican, said Monday.

Officials explain that if somebody is suspected of a crime, then scientists can take DNA collected from a crime scene and see whether it matches that of an immediate relative of the suspect.

The new technique — known as “familial DNA” — will be used by scientists at the state’s Department of Forensic Science. It is already being used in California and Colorado.


Mr. McDonnell said the computer software to perform such searches was developed by the Office of Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey and given to Virginia free of charge.

Virginia law requires that those convicted of or arrested for certain crimes provide a sample of their DNA for inclusion in the state databank of DNA profiles. Law-enforcement officials run DNA samples from hair, blood, tissue or bodily fluids collected at crime scenes against the database, getting a “hit” when it matches a profile.

Virginia has been at the forefront of DNA testing across the country, with state officials last month announcing that the database, which contains about 350,000 samples, had marked 7,000 hits.

Among the 7,000 hits, roughly 8 percent were in homicide cases, 15 percent were sex offenses, 66 percent were in crimes such as burglary, robbery, grand larceny, and breaking and entering, and 11 percent were in other types of crimes.

State officials say the success of identifying a lead to a suspect of an unsolved crime using familial DNA will depend upon a parent, a child or a sibling of the suspect having previously provided a DNA sample.

Authorities say familial DNA led to the capture last year of Lonnie Franklin Jr., nicknamed the “Grim Sleeper,” who was charged in California with 10 counts of murder.

The state's forensic science department has issued a policy for considering requests from law-enforcement officials to conduct familial DNA searches in cases involving unsolved violent crimes where other investigative leads have been exhausted and critical public safety concerns exist.

“Familial DNA searching, which must be used cautiously and sparingly, provides another important tool to assist law enforcement in some of their most difficult and heinous cases where the safety of the public remains a concern,” Mr. McDonnell said.