DNA Evidence Explained: Finding Moscow Idaho Murder Suspect
Jan 25th, 2023 | by Scott C. Thomas, Orange County Criminal Law Attorney
If there is one thing that is clear from the horrifying murders in Moscow, Idaho, it is that DNA evidence is a powerful tool in criminal cases to establish the guilt or innocence of a suspect. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the genetic material that makes up the chromosomes in every cell of the body. It contains the instructions for the development and function of all living organisms.
DNA evidence can be collected from a variety of sources, including blood, semen, hair, skin cells, and saliva. The DNA can then be analyzed and compared to samples collected from a suspect or a crime scene. If the DNA samples match, it can be used as evidence to establish a link between the suspect and the crime.
DNA analysis is a very accurate and reliable method of identifying individuals, and it has been used in many high-profile criminal cases to solve crimes and identify suspects. However, it is important to note that DNA evidence is not always foolproof and can be subject to human error or contamination. It is also important that DNA evidence is collected and analyzed properly to ensure its integrity and reliability.
In certain cases, such as the Moscow, Idaho murders, the presence of multiple DNA contributors can complicate a criminal investigation. This can occur when multiple individuals have contributed DNA to a sample, such as when multiple people have handled an object or when there is a mixture of DNA from multiple individuals present at a crime scene. This was definitely the case in the house the victims lived in as people would come and go on a regular basis.
When multiple DNA contributors are present, it can be difficult to determine the specific DNA profile of an individual suspect. This is because the DNA profiles of multiple individuals can be mixed together, making it difficult to separate and identify the DNA of a single individual. This can make it difficult to establish a link between a suspect and a crime scene or to exclude a suspect from being the source of DNA found at a crime scene.
Additionally, the presence of multiple DNA contributors can also lead to a phenomenon known as “co-mingling” where the DNA profiles of two or more individuals are so similar that it is not possible to distinguish between them. This can make it difficult to identify an individual suspect.
To overcome these issues, forensic scientists use advanced DNA analysis techniques, such as Y-STR analysis, that can be used to help identify the DNA of specific individuals in a mixture. This can be useful in situations where there are multiple DNA contributors present.
Fortunately, in the Moscow case investigators located a sheath left behind by the killer, which had a single DNA source sample on a button located on the sheath. What started out as a search for a needle in a haystack for investigators was solved, yet this DNA sample still had to be tied to an individual, leading to a new search for a needle in a haystack.
To determine the identity of the individual who left behind a DNA sample, there are two main types of DNA databases that investigators may use: government DNA databases and private genealogy databases.
Government DNA databases, also known as “CODIS“, the Combined DNA Index System, are maintained by law enforcement agencies and include DNA profiles of convicted offenders and arrestees, as well as DNA samples collected from crime scenes. These databases are used by law enforcement agencies to match DNA samples collected from crime scenes to known offenders and to link crimes that may have been committed by the same individual.
Private genealogy databases, such as GEDmatch, are used by genealogists and individuals to trace their ancestry and family history. These databases include DNA profiles of individuals who have voluntarily submitted their DNA for testing and analysis. Criminal investigators may use these databases as a tool to identify potential suspects by comparing DNA samples collected from crime scenes to the DNA profiles in the database.
One of the most famous cases where private genealogy databases were used to identify a suspect is the Golden State Killer case. The investigators used GEDmatch to identify a distant relative of the suspect, and from there, they were able to identify the suspect himself.
In the Moscow case, DNA genealogy sites were used to locate the suspect’s father, with 99.998% certainty. From there, it was simply a matter of obtaining a sample from the suspect to compare to the sample collected at the crime scene to confirm identity.
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