DNA May Change Killer Profile

ByABC News via logo
June 12, 2003, 1:22 PM

June 13 -- A brand-new forensics tool that helped identify the race of the suspect in the Baton Rouge, La., serial killings could forever change how investigators break big cases.

Tony Frudakis, head of a forensics laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., claims to have perfected a new DNA technology called SNIPS, or single nucleotide polymorphism that breaks the ethnicity of a murder suspect down by percentage. In more than 3,000 blind tests of the SNIPS technology, Frudakis' lab has not yet confirmed a single error, he says.

Frudakis offered the technology to authorities in Louisiana looking for the Baton Rouge serial killer. And the new DNA test led to a break in the case.

As far back as September 2002, a police profile suggested the suspect was likely a white man aged 25 to 35. Even just before the arrest of suspect Derrick Todd Lee, a black man, authorities were following an FBI profile that pegged the killer as most likely white.

After studying DNA found at one of the crime scenes, Frudakis concluded that the Baton Rouge serial killer had about 80 percent African affiliation and 15 percent Native American affiliation. In other words, the killer was not white after all.

Investigators shifted their focus and eventually arrested Lee, 34, in May in connection with the slayings of at least five women in southern Louisiana beginning September 2001.

In an exclusive Primetime interview, Frudakis gave ABCNEWS' Diane Sawyer and famed crime writer and ABCNEWS consultant Patricia Cornwell a tour of his lab.

"I think [SNIPS is] so revolutionary that I'm still reeling from it a little bit, because I keep up with all of this and I didn't know they were doing this," Cornwell said.

Looking Beyond Traditional Profiles

The break in the Baton Rouge case came after months of frustration, largely stemming from criminal profiles that pegged the killer as a white man.

The contrary clues were there. Just after the slaying of Charlotte Murray Pace in June 2002, for instance, two witnesses said they told authorities they saw a black man watching the victim's house on the day of the killing.