SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 News) – Old crimes, frozen in police cold case files for years, are becoming warm again thanks to brand new technology. At Utah’s state crime lab, scientists are solving crimes that were once thought to be lost causes.
A criminal touches a sleeve in the act of committing a crime. There’s no fingerprint, no hair or fluid sample. But now, that doesn’t mean there is no evidence.
A skin sample on a sleeve, invisible to the naked eye, can be enough crucial evidence in the hands of experts.
It was July, 2010 – a long-sought suspect in one of Utah’s most notorious crimes returned to Salt Lake City to face charges. Police say John Breck raped then stabbed to death 10 year-old Anna Palmer on the front porch of her home.
It took nearly twelve years to make an arrest. The break in the case was tiny flecks of skin, collected years earlier from under Anna’s finger nails. Anna had scratched her attacker when she tried to fight him off and when she did, she collected evidence.
That evidence came to the Utah state crime lab where forensic scientists extracted identifying markers from the skin samples, markers prosecutors say matched Breck.
Astounding as that discovery was, crime lab technicians are now finding clues in even more unlikely places.
“Now as technology changes, we’re better able to see that interaction of the suspect interacting with the environment,” explains state crime lab director Jay Henry. “Somebody comes in, maybe a suspect or a victim at a crime scene, and they don’t leave blood but maybe they leave some skin cells."
It’s called "Touch DNA Technology." It can be a sample so small it’s invisible to the naked eye. It can speak volumes, such as who left it at the scene of a crime.
“We can now do certain cases that we wouldn’t be able to process before," says senior forensic scientist Michele Marfori.
Decades-old murder cases are coming back to life in her lab. And now, this team of techs is taking on rape cases thanks to a new technique called "YSTR Testing." It’s a process that separates male DNA from fluid samples mixed with female DNA.
"We can obtain a profile either with regular DNA testing or with the YSTR testing that indicates a male or a number of males who can be present," Marfori explains.
As word gets out to law enforcers across Utah, detectives are re-opening files which have been closed for years, and finding fresh clues that are cracking unsolved cases.
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