- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

PIKESVILLE, Md. Eleven years after a Linthicum woman was assaulted in her bedroom, police and FBI agents arrested her accused attacker at his home in an upscale neighborhood in Chicago.
It was not physical evidence, an anonymous tip or even the recollections of the victim that led police to the suspect. The only link was a DNA sample taken from the woman that was fed into a national DNA database and came up with one match Gary William Pescrillo.
Mr. Pescrillo is one of 10 persons arrested solely on the basis of a DNA match since the Maryland legislature decided in 1994 to create a computer database of convicted criminals. The numbers are small so far, but police and prosecutors believe DNA will become an increasingly important weapon in their fight against crime.
"It took five years to get the first match," Dr. Louis Portis, director of the Maryland State Police Crime Lab, said in a recent interview. "But we expect that to increase dramatically. We expect we are going to start seeing more and more matches."
Maryland got into the DNA database business slowly, with the 1994 law applying only to sex offenders. Then, in 1999, the General Assembly expanded the law to include violent felonies, such as murder, attempted murder, armed robbery and assault.
By the end of this year, the state database will contain about 13,000 DNA samples, with another 3,000 awaiting analysis. In addition, about 6,000 inmates in state prisons are covered by the law, but have not yet been tested, Dr. Portis said.
Maryland is also part of a national computer system maintained by the FBI that has DNA samples of more than 700,000 convicted criminals, said Jodine Zane, a forensic chemist supervisor with the state police.
Police and prosecutors relish the law enforcement capabilities of that rapidly expanding database.
In Anne Arundel County, where Mr. Pescrillo is scheduled to stand trial next month on 11 charges, including a first-degree sex offense, a second suspect was indicted last month in a 13-year-old rape case. Robert M. Eiseman was serving time in a state prison near Hagerstown when he was charged as a result of DNA evidence.
"We wouldn't know about these. It's DNA and only DNA that gave us suspects," State's Attorney Frank Weathersbee said. "It will be a very important tool."
He believes DNA sampling will inevitably be expanded.
"At some point, you will start seeing DNA taken from probably all arrestees. This will be an additional method besides fingerprints to be able to identify individuals from trace evidence that's left at the scene of a crime," Mr. Weathersbee said.
Suzanne Smith, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union, also expects DNA testing will continue to expand, and that is just what worries her.
The ACLU was not pleased when the 1994 bill was passed, but it applied only to a small group of people "whose DNA could be very helpful in investigating their crimes," Miss Smith said.
"They kind of justified it that way," she said.
But Miss Smith said the law has been expanded far beyond the original scope, and lawmakers already are talking about extending it even further.
"That becomes the real problem with DNA databases, not that people set out to use the information in nefarious ways," she said.
"There is no more personal information than your DNA," Miss Smith said. "We're always concerned when the government starts compiling databases of personal information."
Mr. Weathersbee said there may be privacy concerns, "but I think the privacy concerns can be addressed."
He said a DNA database only allows a sample of a criminal's DNA to be analyzed to see if it matches any other samples in the computer. But it does not contain specific genetic information that could be used improperly, Mr. Weathersbee said.
When Miss Zane pulls up one of the DNA matches the state has come up with so far, two rows of numbers march across the screen of her computer terminal, providing what she calls a perfect match.
She points out that the samples are identified only by number, not by name. The names and corresponding numbers are kept separately to protect privacy.
Dr. Portis said the state has cautiously approached the expansion mandated by the 1999 law because of the high stakes involved. "You want to be as perfect as you can get in this business. We are putting people in prison. In rare occasions, you may be taking a life. We've got to be right."
Col. David Mitchell, state police superintendent, said state police also have to be careful to protect the integrity of DNA evidence that can be critically important in solving crimes that could not be solved in the past.
"We have the ability to go back in time and analyze evidence. It can help confirm our belief that someone committed a crime, or it can demonstrate that someone did not leave DNA at the crime scene," Col. Mitchell said.
But he said DNA evidence faces special scrutiny because of the success of O.J. Simpson's attorneys in discounting DNA evidence. Prosecutors had hoped to use the data to convict the former football great in the 1994 deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
"As wonderful as the science is, there is still a heavy burden on law enforcement to handle the evidence in true and tested ways that will withstand court challenges," Col. Mitchell said.

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