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Accused serial killer snared using controversial technique

Publication Date: 
July 08, 2010
CNN - Justice
Ashley Fantz

Professor Hank Greely, an expert on law and the biosciences, is quoted on using familial DNA evidence to solve crimes. Ashley Fantz of CNN reports:

Los Angeles police are saying they've arrested a serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper using familial DNA, or the comparison of one's unique genetic code with a relative's unique code.

Police say they found the man accused of killing 11 people -- in murders dating back to 1985 -- by comparing DNA found at some of the crime scenes with the DNA of the suspect's son, who was in a California lock-up. The son's DNA led them to the father, and police are sure they've solved the case.

Familial DNA is a controversial crime-solving method.


"That's a low number, but when you're talking about violent cases or high-profile cases, any match is a worthwhile effort," said Hank Greely, a Stanford University Law School professor. Greely is considered a national expert on the ethical implication of DNA testing.

He points to a fiery controversy concerning familial testing -- racial profiling.

The CODIS databank is disproportionately filled with African-Americans, said Greely.

"Race is a big issue; it's a legitimate question to address, and it's a troubling fact," he said. "We can talk all day long about why it is that more African-Americans are arrested, but the fact is that the database reflects that. Inevitably that means familial DNA matching will net more African-Americans than any other group of people.

"This a very hot conversation to be having," he said. "And I'm sure this Grim Sleeper case is only going to bring that on like we've never experienced it before in California."