Broward Felony Defense: When DNA Provides Conflicting Results

Some 50 years ago, a man in Boston admitted to being a serial killer who raped and killed at least 10 women. He was dubbed “the Boston Strangler.”
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Our Fort Lauderdale felony defense attorneys know the notoriety of this case left an indelible impression on people, which is why they continue to discuss it to this day.

However, what’s interesting about the case today is the fact that investigators now say they have a definitive familial DNA match between the confessed and samples taken from one of the victims (the only victim for whom physical evidence still remains). This latest revelation prompted authorities to exhume the body of the suspect to get a more definitive test.

Of course, it’s understandable that this would be noteworthy, as there was no DNA evidence back in 1964, when this one murder occurred. But here’s why it’s even more noteworthy, particularly for defense attorneys: A DNA test conducted back in 2001 showed NO definitive match between the suspect (now deceased) and the victim.

So we’re talking about two modern-day DNA tests conducted on the same samples from the same individuals, which then turned up different results.

Yet, DNA is upheld as the be-all, end-all in so many criminal cases. It’s used not just in murder and sexual battery cases, but also in burglaries, DUIs, and assaults. So disparities like this matter.

In the Boston Strangler case, there was always some suspicion after the suspect confessed that he wasn’t in fact the true killer. His confession was reportedly riddled with errors regarding details of the crimes which were, interestingly enough, the same errors made by the media at the time. This country has a long history of individuals confessing under pressure to crimes they didn’t commit.

There were even some of the victims’ relatives who doubted whether the man serving time was the real killer.

Although he was convicted and was serving a life sentence for the crime, he recanted his earlier confession in 1973, just prior to his death.

Back in 2001, a forensic investigation team took samples of mitochondrial DNA from the suspects brother. That sample was tested against DNA samples from a dried liquid that was found on the body of that final victim. Those samples did not match. At the time, the independent investigators said they could find nothing on the remains that was consistent with the defendant’s DNA.

Then just this year, investigators reportedly secretly trailed a nephew of the deceased defendant, seizing a discarded water bottle and scraping it for DNA. (This later became a point of contention for family members, who say they would have willingly provided a sample.) The results of that DNA test, when compared to the sample found on the victim’s body, was a match of 99.9 percent.

The discrepancy between the two results is troubling for a number of reasons.

The man who lead the forensic team back in 2001 said his evidence didn’t produce a match, meaning they couldn’t prove guilt. Some people, he said, would say that meant the defendant was innocent. But, he said, those are two different things.

The fact that a different result turned up today, a dozen years later, could be the result of different samples being tested by different labs, the former team leader said.

If his theory is true, it would be yet another blow to forensic teams who insist that DNA evidence is always right. If two different teams reach two different results in the same case, clearly one is wrong.

The other theory, as posited by the new forensic team, is that forensic technology has advanced now to a point that we can get more accurate readings today than we could even a decade ago. But we can guarantee you that prosecutors back in 2001 weren’t telling juries there was a chance the DNA evidence they had in hand could be wrong. They aren’t saying that today either, though that is most certainly the case.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
In 2001 DNA Evidence Didn’t Point to Albert DeSalvo as the Boston Strangler. New DNA Tests Do. What Gives? July 11, 2013, By Justin Peters, Slate.com
More Blog Entries:
Broward Felony Defense: Bite Mark Analysis Unreliable, July 10, 2013, Fort Lauderdale Felony Defense Lawyer Blog

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