Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said in a statement on Sunday that he was pleased the state Commission on Forensic Science “has agreed to consider authorizing the use of familial searching of New York’s DNA databanks.” The commission will take up the matter at its next meeting, according to a spokesperson for Brown.
Familial DNA screening requires special testing on the Y chromosome and can produce common male profiles along the paternal lineage, leading potentially to a biological match of the culprit’s Y chromosome profile.
Brown hopes the use of this method will help investigators finally crack a substantial lead in the Vetrano case. He specifically cited the investigation in a letter he sent on Thursday, Dec. 8, to Michael C. Green, the executive deputy commissioner of the state Division of Criminal Justice and chair of the Commission on Forensic Science.
Vetrano went out for a run from her 84th Street home on the afternoon of Aug. 2 and never returned home. Her father called police, and her body was found hours later lying in the tall weeds of Spring Creek Park. Law enforcement sources said that her clothing had been removed, and she suffered blunt force trauma to her head and had been strangled. There was also evidence that she was sexually assaulted.
The NYPD was able to create a genetic profile of the murder suspect from evidence recovered at the crime scene, but a search of national and local DNA databanks — which contain the genetic profiles of criminals — did not yield a match.
Already in use in nine other states, familial DNA screening allows forensic investigators to further examine DNA profiles in databanks that closely resemble an unidentified DNA profile recovered from a crime scene. Once a partial match is found, it may indicate that the DNA belongs to a relative of the perpetrator. This sets forth for investigators “a path to identifying the perpetrator himself,” according to Brown.
Familial DNA screening may not only help find Vetrano’s killer, Brown wrote, but it may also solve a host of cold criminal cases statewide.
However, some have argued that the technique may conflict with a person’s constitutional rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois outlined in 2011 a host of concerns about familial DNA screening, indicating that it may violate the privacy of relatives of convicted felons and opens the door for DNA testing to be used by private industry to deny jobs or services to individuals genetically linked to a criminal. The ACLU also argued the technique would disproportionately target people of color.
In his statement on Sunday, Brown dismissed such concerns about familial DNA searching as “misguided.” He said the method “is no more invasive of citizens’ privacy than standard criminal investigative techniques that have long been employed without controversy,” such as fingerprinting.
“DNA databank advances like these have led to thousands of convictions and exonerated dozens of innocent New Yorkers,” Brown said. “They have not led to wrongful convictions; they have prevented them.”
Police Commissioner James O’Neill offered his support of familial DNA testing in a statement on Dec. 8.
“The success of any investigation depends directly on the amount of available evidence and information to assist the detectives,” O’Neill said. “Access to existing data sources may provide valuable leads to assist further investigative efforts. I join Queens District Attorney Brown in urging the New York State Commission on Forensic Science to authorize access to these DNA files.”