Virginia May Nab Serial Rapist Through Blood Relative DNA

The Quest To Use DNA Tool To Hunt East Coast Rapist

In his first known attack, he rode a bike and wore a ski mask when he attacked a 25-year-old woman at gunpoint in Forestville, Md., on Feb. 19, 1997. The same man's DNA tied him to the knifepoint attack on a mother of four in woods near a bus stop in Fairfax, Va., a few days after Christmas 2001. The rampage moved up to New England, where a 27-year-old woman awoke Jan. 10, 2007 to find a man in the bedroom in her New Haven, Conn., home and was then assaulted.

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In his most recent attack on the three trick-or-treaters in a wooded ravine in northern Virginia, he raped one and was moving on to the next when the third teen dimmed the light on her cell phone and blindly texted seven people, including her mother, typing: "911 cvs pls noww man with gun." Before he could get to his third victim, police sirens scared off the rapist.

The rapist wielded a handgun or a knife in several attacks, a screwdriver and broken bottle in others.and after some assaults, he left feces near the crime scene. He is described as 6-foot tall trim black man in his 30s who smokes, has a smooth voice, often wears black hats and camouflage clothing and once had a chipped tooth.

The Grim Sleeper
Nightline (07.07.10)

One thing all sides agree on is that familial DNA is a effective tool for catching criminals. So why isn't it being put to work in more states?

"Ignorance, apathy," said Rock Harmon, the former prosecutor whose cases included the O.J. Simpson murder trial and who was instrumental in getting California forensics experts to employ familial searches. "You have something that could be so good. But it's pretty esoteric. You have to understand it to move it forward and not too many prosecutors do."

Critics say the push to use familial DNA is the first step down a slippery slope of eroding privacy and civil rights.

"These really, really gruesome cases make the most powerful case for using the method but that doesn't mean it's fair and equitable," said Erin Murphy, a leading DNA legal expert and professor at New York University's School of Law.

Beware the "Grim Sleeper"
Beware the 'Grim Sleeper'

It would be fair only if every American submitted a sample to a DNA database, she said. That way the familial scans would not just include blood relatives of people who had been arrested or convicted, a group that primarily includes black and Hispanics. But there is a good reason why there is no movement toward an all encompassing DNA database for every U.S. citizen.

"People don't want the government to have the key to their genetic existence. That shows how important privacy is to people," Murphy said. "Right now, as a society, we decided that people who are law abiding don't need to submit DNA to a database. [Familial DNA searches are] a back door to subvert that. It's now true only if you're not related to someone who forfeited their DNA. It's guilt by association."


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