Parents of murdered Howard Beach jogger applaud use of expanded DNA testing in New York criminal cases

Photo courtesy of Daniel Offner

The parents of slain jogger Karina Vetrano held a press conference at the intersection of 164th Avenue and 83rd Street in Howard Beach last Friday afternoon to applaud the New York State Commission on Forensic Science for voting in favor of allowing the use of Familial DNA Matching (FM) in certain cases.

Phil and Cathie Vetrano began advocating for FM in New York State after the investigation into their daughter’s murder last August turned up few leads. Even after a break in the case led to the arrest of Brooklyn’s Chanel Lewis — who was picked up by detectives in February and ultimately indicted for murdering and sexually abusing Karina Vetrano — they continued to participate in a public campaign to allow for FM in The Empire State.

“The Vetranos wanted to make sure no family ever had to go through what they went through. Even through their grief and loss, they saw an opportunity to do that, and they made it happen,” said Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato. “This community owes the Commission, NYC’s District Attorneys, the NYPD, and most of all the Vetranos a great debt for their tenacity and selflessness. They took a personal tragedy and made it about protecting the community. I’m proud to be their representative, and I’m proud to stand with them today as they usher in a new era of protection and greater clarity, both for victims and their families as well as for the accused.”

Pheffer Amato has been a staunch a supporter of the Vetranos after their tragic loss, and was the sponsor of an Assembly bill to authorize FM legislatively if the Commission hadn’t passed it with a vote.

For six months, police and investigators scoured the Gateway National Recreation Area for clues as to who attacked and brutally killed Vetrano last August. As leads were drying up, the Vetranos and several state and city elected officials pushed for the use of FM.

FM 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.

On June 16, the New York State Commission on Forensic Science and its DNA Subcommittee adopted guidelines permitting the use of FM by a vote of 9 to 2, making New York the 11th state to allow the use of FM.

“It is my hope, that with the New York State Commission on Forensic Science’s new guidelines, we will start to see the implementation of an improved means of investigation that has been proven effective in other parts of the country,” said state Senator Joseph Addabbo. “Thank you to the Vetranos, who have been vocal advocates for the use of familial DNA, while living with their own personal tragedy. It is thanks to them and many that the state will be better equipped to seek out criminals, when investigators have run out of leads.”

“[Friday’s] approval of familial DNA searching by the State Commission on Forensic Science is a victory for justice and the people of the State of New York. The Commission has insured more victims will receive justice, the public will be safer, and we in law enforcement can better guard against wrongful arrest and convictions,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown in a statement. “From the time I first advocated last year for authorization of this tool, I maintained that, with appropriated safeguards, familial DNA searching could effectively be employed to solve crimes. I am gratified that the Commission agreed. The framework approved by the Commission strikes a fair balance between use of new scientific tools to solve serious cases and protection of individual rights and privacy. I commend the Commission on this thoughtful, balanced procedure.”

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