In criminal cases, sometimes the perpetrator gets away with their crime simply because the police had no leads on how to find them. All of that is changing now. Take the case of a woman’s skeletal remains that were found by hikers on the side of a highway near Baltimore in 2017. The police had no way to identify the body at first. It was only when a new DNA technology entered the scene that they were able to identify the victim.
With this new technology, only a small sample of DNA is needed to create an image of how a person could potentially look. Using this information, police were able to figure out who the victim was in this case, and then go on to arrest the man who killed her. He got 30 years in prison.
What Is The DNA Technology Exactly?
This DNA technology used to help police solve cold cases is called DNA phenotyping. All that is needed for the technology to work is a single drop of blood. The technology creates a composite image of a person’s face and even build. It can be used for much more than simply identifying crime victims; it can help to identify the criminals too.
DNA phenotyping has already been used to this end, to find a man who brutally assaulted a 17-year-old girl from New Mexico. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison. It was also used to identify a man as the suspect of murdering of a 25-year-old Texas woman. He is now awaiting trial. Without DNA phenotyping, this man was not even a suspect. Several companies can now provide this service, which costs around $3,000 for each composite image, and it has already helped police in more than 40 cases.
Police Were Skeptical At First
The DNA in just one drop of blood has instructions for how a person looks physically. That small sample weeds through tens of thousands of genetic options to make a very educated guess about how someone looks. Police were initially skeptical of the technology, which seemed too good to be true, so they found a way to test it.
One group of officers sent a sample of DNA from a volunteer in the office for the DNA phenotypes to predict what that volunteer looked like. What they came up with convinced them, and since then, police have been confident in using the technology to solve cases. The composite image is an estimation, so police keep that in mind when looking for a suspect.
Better Than Traditional DNA Profiling
Traditionally in crime forensics, DNA is analyzed against suspects that have already been identified or against a database. The problem is when police do not find a match. With DNA phenotyping, the DNA at the crime scene is enough to generate leads all on its own; there is no need for it to match up to anything.
The technology can predict things like eye and hair color, for example. It also uses geneology information for public databases like Ancestry.com. The composite image it predicts contains high-confidence-level traits and low-confidence-level traits, which police pay attention to in investigations. They use the image as a starting point, which can be combined with details a witness might remember, like a name. Where a name on its own would not have been much help, together with the composite image, many more crimes can be solved.