Queens lawmakers’ calls to allow the use of familial DNA testing moved closer to being answered on Monday, March 27, as the DNA Subcommittee of the New York State Commission on Forensic Science unanimously agreed to allow expanded genetic testing to help investigators solve heinous crimes.
Familial DNA screening allows investigators to pursue partial matches of genetic evidence recovered from a crime scene with the profiles of criminals in the state and national DNA databanks. Interest in using the investigation method flared up during the case of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano, who was found brutally raped and murdered last August.
The Vetrano family pleaded with state officials to allow expanded genetic testing to help in their daughter’s previously unsolved case. However, law enforcement agents were able to identify and arrest 20-year-old Chanel Lewis for the rape and murder of Vetrano on Feb. 6, using traditional DNA testing methods.
According to a report by Newsday, the policy states that familial DNA testing could only be used once local police and prosecutors showed that reasonable investigation methods have been used and produced no results, or that an emergency situation exists. This policy would allow familial DNA testing to be used in cases of first-degree kidnapping and arson as well.
The subcommittee also recommended that the full Commission on Forensic Science approve the policy.
“[Monday’s] action by the DNA Subcommittee of the NYS Commission on Forensic Science unanimously approving familial match DNA searches is an important step forward in identifying the guilty, excluding the innocent and bringing closure to the families of victims of unsolved homicides,” said Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, a strong supporter of familial DNA testing. “While the journey for justice for those families is not yet complete, this is an important milestone.”
Supporters of familial DNA testing included Senators Joseph Addabbo and Tony Avella, who co-sponsored a bill which was passed early in February that would require the DNA Subcommittee of the New York State Commission on Forensic Science to make a report recommending the best practices for the use of expanded genetic testing by the end of 2017.
“Following the tragic death of Howard Beach resident and constituent, Karina Vetrano, your state elected officials have continued to push the Commission on Forensic Science to adopt guidelines that would allow the use of familial DNA testing, a system that has been proven effective in other parts of the country,” Addabbo said in a statement. “It is our hope that by approving the careful use of familial DNA matching, we will be better equipped to solve investigations and assist law enforcement.”
“If the Commission accepts the Subcommittee’s recommendations, it will say that, as a government, we are absolutely committed to using all available tools to convict the guilty and free the innocent. I strongly urge the Commission to do so at their next meeting; we expect that they will,” added Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato.