Chronicle DNA story, 6-25-2001 Message Board: Zodiac Media: Chronicle DNA story, 6-25-2001

By Ed N (Ed_N) ( - on Tuesday, June 26, 2001 - 10:47 pm:

From the San Francisco Chronicle, pp. A1, A11:

State boosts felons' DNA database: Crime-fighting cache becomes largest in U.S.

by Charlie Goodyear and Erin Hallissy
Chronicle staff writers

Racing against a July 1 deadline, state forensics experts have compiled the nation's largest convicted felon DNA database, now ready to solve thousands of violent crimes in California.

Once faced with a huge backlog, the Department of Justice will announce today that it has amassed 200,000 genetic profiles of convicted felons in its Berkeley DNA lab.

"I'm delighted that the backlog has been eliminated and that this tool for law enforcement is available in a robust way," said state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who made the databank his top priority in 2000. "This is a wonderful new science that allows us to solve crimes and to prove both guilt and innocence."

Lockyer set the goal of 200,000 profiles in the databank shortly after a 1999 Chronicle investigation detailed the poor state of the database.

In October of that year -- more than a decade after the database was established -- genetic profiles from only 65,000 felons were in the computer, housed at a nondescript laboratory in an industrial section of Berkeley. Tens of thousands of blood and saliva samples sat unanalyzed in freezers and refrigerators because of a lack of money and staff, and thousands of violent parolees and convicts had never had samples taken despite the legal requirement.

At that time, the database for the nation's most populous state had scored 11 "cold hits" -- matching a convicted murderer, rapist or other violent felon to a previously unsolved crime through DNA comparison. By contrast, some smaller states such as Florida and Virginia, which had made major financial and political commitments to the technology, had made dozens of cold hits on long-unsolved cases.

Lockyer credited the Legislature and Gov. Gray Davis for approving an additional $5 million to deal with the backlog by buying new equipment and hiring new technicians. The state Department of Corrections also stepped up collecting blood and saliva samples from eligible inmates, which has gone from sending 3,000 a month to the lab to as many as 10,000.

The efforts have already started paying off. With the growth of the database, the computer is now delivering almost a cold hit every week, with 19 so far this year. Experts say that pace will only quicken.

"I will predict that with those kinds of numbers in the database and the ability to run the crime scene materials . . . it will just take off and keep on accelerating," said Paul Ferrara, who runs the highly respected Virginia DNA databank. His databank, which has 160,000 profiles from every convicted felon in the state, has had more than 400 cold hits, and is averaging more than one a day on both new and old cases. "It's just very gratifying. You'll see it in California in no time."

Ferrara and other lab directors were impressed that the Berkeley lab was able to meet its deadline, which the FBI had called "wildly ambitious."

"I think it's remarkable," said Frank Fitzpatrick, director of Orange County's DNA lab and a former critic of the state's effort. "I think there have been promises over the years that have not been kept, so I was skeptical (when Lockyer set the goal). My skepticism has vanished."

"It's going to definitely benefit California," said David Coffman, director of Florida's DNA lab, which has had 325 cold hits which have cleared 480 cases,

including serial rapes and murders. "I think what they're doing is fantastic."

Lance Gima, who runs the Berkeley lab, said he and his staff devised an assembly-line system able to turn thousands of blood and saliva samples into digitized DNA profiles. He credited the combination of smart spending to get machines -- including some used computers from the Human Genome Project -- and hiring and training scientists, many fresh out of college. The lab also instituted a second shift and now operates daily from 7 a.m. to midnight with about 100 workers.

Despite the success, no one involved in the database project is pausing for self-congratulation.

"We know the system isn't perfect," Gima said. About 15 percent of the 5, 000 samples the lab receives each month are drawn from convicts whose crimes aren't among the dozen that qualify for the DNA database. County jails still aren't providing a high enough number of samples. And the Department of Corrections has 12,000 inmates who still need to provide blood and saliva.

Among them are 26 inmates who refuse to comply with the database law and 594 inmates on death row who have won an injunction -- which the state is fighting -- to stay out of the computer.

The database was designed to solve "old and cold" cases along with quickly identifying suspects in new ones. But it can only do that when felons' profiles are compared to biological evidence -- from blood, semen, saliva or even sweat -- from an unsolved crime. There are thousands of unsolved rapes and murders in California. But so far technicians have DNA profiles from just 700 pending cases they run through the computer several times a month in the chance a recently added convict sample matches up.

Rock Harmon, an Alameda County prosecutor who has led the charge to make DNA databasing a top priority, said police in California are behind on exploiting advances in genetic technology that other states now consider second nature.

"A lot of counties still haven't expressed that much interest," Harmon said.

"It's a struggle to get these unsolved cases typed and profiled."

Gima plans to travel around the state soon to stress the importance of getting unsolved case evidence to the Berkeley lab for comparison to the databank. At the same time, a new $50 million effort to process unanalyzed rape kit evidence will begin to identify suspects in thousands of unsolved sexual assaults.

Later this year, the database, the cold hit program and a missing persons genetic registry will move to a 68,000-square-foot office in Point Richmond that was formerly occupied by the computer animation company Pixar.

Workers there will also make each DNA profile more detailed so they can be entered into the FBI's national convicted offender database. To meet its goal, California analyzed profiles using nine points of identification on the DNA code, instead of the 13 points required by the FBI. While nine is enough to establish probable cause for a match, the federal government wanted a higher standard.

"It's important because . . . the rest of the country can then benefit from what California has done," said Chris Asplen, director of the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence. He noted that California received $1. 5 million out of $14 million in federal grants last year to help deal with backlogs. "It's really rare in the criminal justice system that the allocation of dollars has such a dramatic effect."

Lockyer is now pushing to expand the number of crimes that qualify felons for the database. Currently, the crimes are murder, kidnapping, sexual assault offenses and spousal abuse, but a bill he's backing would add robbery, arson and carjacking to the list. That could add tens of thousands of felons to the database and solve more cases because rapists often begin their criminal careers as burglars.

But even without those felons, the databank is fulfilling the promise that law enforcement made when it was created. In March, it solved a crime that had long haunted the city of San Diego, linking a convicted sex offender to the 1993 murder of two young boys.

"It was a pure cold hit," said San Diego County prosecutor and DNA expert George "Woody" Clarke. "That's exactly what databases were designed to do, and now we're starting to see the fruits of this in California."

Justice Department 'cold hits' These are among the cases solved by the Department of Justice's DNA databank of convicted felons:
. David James McIntosh

In 1984, 13-year-old Heidi Marie Fredette's body was found dumped by the side of Highway 36 in Tehama County. She had been strangled, stabbed and sexually assaulted.

Fifteen years later, evidence taken at the time of her death was analyzed as part of the state Department of Justice's "old and cold" program. A DNA fingerprint of the rapist was completed and compared against the DNA databank of known felons in Berkeley.

A cold hit was made to David James McIntosh, 53, whose genetic profile was in the databank because of a conviction for kidnapping, rape and assault with intent to commit rape. McIntosh was just days away from being released from Folsom State Prison, but he is now being prosecuted for murder, kidnapping and murder by torture of Heidi, and will be eligible for the death penalty. .

Michael Adams

On June 17, 1981, Sylvia Edgren was found beaten to death in her car on Casanova Street in Monterey. The 48-year-old mother of two, whose widower, Don Edgren, is now on the Monterey City Council, had been kidnapped and raped.

The case was not forgotten by Monterey police. They went through old case files last year and sent DNA evidence to the Justice Department's databank in Berkeley.

Nearly 20 years later, they got the cold hit they were hoping for. In January, police arrested Michael Adams, 44, a Salinas felon, and charged him with murder.

Adams was in the databank because of a 1987 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon. .

Paul Eugene Robinson

Police called them the Second-Story Rapes - a string of sexual assaults in the Arden Fair and Cal Expo area of Sacramento. Many of the cases had the same method of operation as the break-in on Aug. 25, 1994.

In that case, a woman was awakened in the early morning hours by a man standing at the foot of her bed. He threatened her and pulled out a knife he said he had taken from her kitchen. He then assaulted her and fled the apartment. Police believe that he got in through an open window in her dining room.

Semen was collected, but for years was not tested. Just before the six-year statute of limitations ran out last August, police obtained an arrest warrant listing no name but the genetic profile of the man they wanted to arrest for the crime.

When they submitted the profile to the DNA databank, it matched the profile of Paul Eugene Robinson, 31, of Sacramento, who had prior felony convictions. He was arrested and charged with the crime.

Robinson is now fighting the DNA arrest warrant, saying it violates his constitutional rights because it does not name or adequately describe the person being sought. The state Court of Appeals has agreed to hear the case. - Erin Hallissy and Charlie Goodyear

E-mail Charlie Goodyear at and Erin Hallissy at

By Ed N (Ed_N) ( - on Tuesday, June 26, 2001 - 10:53 pm:

Now, the importance of this story cannot be overstated. While Z is not mentioned, it is important to the Z DNA discussion.

Just two years ago, the state's DNA database was pathetic. Now, it looks like it'll be one of the best in the country. And we all know what that means. IF SFPD and/or VPD actually has Z's DNA, they'll be running it periodically to see if they make a cold hit. Teddy K's DNA should already be in the database, and, if so, then we'll know for certain if he should be ruled in or out as a Z suspect. It will be interesting to see what developments occur, if any. Wouldn't it be weird if Z's DNA matches someone in the database, and it turns out to be no one anyone's ever heard of?

By Sandy (Sandy) ( - on Tuesday, June 26, 2001 - 11:56 pm:

Ed , Thank you for the story. It gives a lot of victims hope. And whom ever the Z turns out to be, I just want him caught while he is still alive. I would love to hear what he has to say, about why he did what he did.And maybe he will tell us where Donna is?

By Mark Coombs (Mark) ( - on Wednesday, June 27, 2001 - 04:12 am:

Ed N-Thanks so much for posting this story! It's very encouraging-you know I've been wondering the same thing, wouldn't it be so very, very strange if the DNA matches an! -Mark

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) ( - on Wednesday, June 27, 2001 - 08:05 am:

It would also be very strange if it turned out to be one of the major suspects; someone who was not only one of the 2500 some odd people that was summarily dismissed as a suspect, but someone who SFPD, VPD, and Napa had been "high" on all along. It's bizarre, because it makes you wonder how such technology will reflect upon the adequacy of law enforcement in general. It's probably safe to say that more than one innocent man has been put to death by our judicial system, and that many guilty persons are still unaccounted for. Prof. Arthur Miller of Justice File's fame once stated that, in the eyes of our courts, "it is better to let one hundred guilty people roam free in our society than to falsely prosecute one innocent person." I believe that perhaps now we will be able to see how well our judicial system has fared against that "standard."


By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Wednesday, June 27, 2001 - 09:44 am:

Ed, I'm wondering why you think Kaczynski's DNA would be on file in a California database. He was charged only with federal crimes; none of the other states decided to prosecute. His DQ-Alpha and polymarker readings are a matter of public record, though, and I'm hoping the newer types of analysis will provide those particular readings. I've given a heads-up to the SFPD on the documentation for Kaczynski's readings through their new e-mail address.

By Ed N (Ed_N) ( - on Wednesday, June 27, 2001 - 10:17 am:

Douglas, he's in a jail in California, and federal crimes or not, does he not qualify as a felon of some sort? I don't know all the nuances of law, but, correct me if I'm wrong, since he committed violent crimes, and all violent criminals are having their DNA taken and profiled, wouldn't his be entered in the database as well? If not, it seems odd that it wouldn't be done.