THOMPSON: More money needed for DNA testing in criminal justice system | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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THOMPSON: More money needed for DNA testing in criminal justice system



More than 65 years ago, nine-year-old Candice Rogers came home from school on Friday, March 6, snacked on an oatmeal cookie and played with her dog before setting out to sell Camp Fire Girls mints in her West Central Spokane neighbourhood.

Just over three decades later and nearly 3,000 miles away, 32-year-old Pamela Albertson, was grooming a horse at the Pompano Beach, FL racetrack on Tuesday morning, Feb. 20. It was a beautiful day…nearly 80 degrees F. and sunny…one of the reasons people Winter in South Florida.

Forty years ago, on Wednesday, Oct. 3, nine-year-old Christine Jessop stepped off her school bus on a cool Fall afternoon and started walking the two blocks to her home in Queensville, just north of Toronto.

Candice, Pamela and Christine had one thing in common…it was their last days alive. Only the different men who murdered them knew how and why it happened. It would take genealogical DNA testing to find the truths…but not always justice.

DNA testing wasn’t used until 1986…and more than 600 cold cases have been solved with it since then. But television programs and movies about crime and justice might convince you that every law enforcement agency uses DNA testing…every case gets tested…that the forensic science is ubiquitous. It is not. DNA testing has been applied to less than one percent of the murders in the U.S. and Canada during the past 65 years.

DNA can be extracted from blood, semen, skin, hair, saliva, among other sources left at a crime scene. Special enzymes are added…and working like scissors…they cut the DNA into the smaller segments.

The DNA segments are sorted by a process using agarose gel electrophoresis. Since the phosphates that form the sugar–phosphate backbone of a DNA molecule have a negative charge, when placed in an electrical field, the DNA migrates toward the positive pole.

Scientists then stain the DNA and transfer it onto a membrane…and a radioactive probe is applied. The membrane is exposed on X-ray film…providing a pattern of DNA bands that looks a little like a supermarket bar code. Like fingerprints, every individual’s DNA is unique.

Without getting too much into the weeds and sounding like a scientific journal, vast improvements have been made in the past 38 years…with less source - saliva, blood, etc. - necessary to assess DNA. Other process improvements make DNA determination faster…if not less costly.

The first case using DNA evidence wasn’t a murder or a rape…it was to prove identity on a child immigrating from Ghana to the U.K. in 1986…but it opened the door to using DNA “fingerprinting” in forensic cases worldwide.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation expanded its pilot project into a national DNA database in 1994. The result was the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS)…a new and trustworthy tool for solving violent crimes.

CODIS has two indexes…a Forensic Index with DNA profiles from crime scene evidence, and an Offender Index with profiles from those convicted of felony sex offences and other violent crimes.

DNA fingerprinting has solved some famous cases…like the “Golden State Killer” in 2018…Joseph James DeAngelo…one of America’s most prolific serial killers. The ex-cop turned truck mechanic unleashed a reign of violence in the 1970s and 1980s: 60 home invasions; 51 rapes; 13 murders. At least 106 victims…women and men.

Among the more than 600 cases solved via DNA, some who were initially found not guilty have since been proved guilty…and some who were first judged guilty were later exonerated. DNA is stronger than an eyewitness in a court of law. Nothing is more conclusive.

DNA testing can cost between $200 US and $2,000 US, depending on what is being tested and the source amount…blood, saliva, hair and such.

I wonder how many more crimes could be solved - cold cases and current cases - if law enforcement agencies directed more budget dollars there instead of, say, tanks and other military grade equipment?

Little Candace Rogers was found in a wooded area - sexually assaulted and strangled - 15 days after her abduction five miles from her home…an apartment above a grocery store in West Spokane.

DNA evidence in 2018 proved beyond any doubt that John Reigh Hoff - who had lived in the neighbourhood - was the rapist and killer. Remaining family members of Candace Rogers and investigators learned Hoff had committed suicide a decade after her murder when he was 30 years old.

Candace’s tragic death was further compounded when three members of a U.S. Air Force helicopter team died after crashing into a nearby river during her search in 1959. Justice delayed…or not applied…is justice denied

DNA played a role in finding Pamela Albertson’s rapist and murderer, as well. Robert Earl Hayes stood trial twice…found guilty in 1991, his conviction was overturned in 1995 by the Florida Supreme Court due to contaminated DNA evidence, then found not-guilty in a re-trial in 1997.

Another DNA sample - uncontaminated - showed conclusively that Hayes was, indeed, the rapist murderer. Hayes could not be re-tried for Albertson's murder due to the double jeopardy clause…but it can affect his parole for the rape and killing of another woman…Leslie Dickenson.

Dickenson - also a horse groomer - was murdered on August 14, 1987 at Vernon Downs in New York. Her death was staged as a hanging and despite evidence of foul play, including  stab wounds and missing money, it was initially ruled a suicide.

After the 1990 murder of Albertson, the Dickenson case was reinvestigated, with Hayes pleading guilty to manslaughter, arson and burglary. He’s eligible for parole next year, but the DNA findings in the Albertson case will keep him in prison.

Little Christine Jessop’s killer was Calvin Hoover. Hoover, his wife and two boys, ages 10 and seven in 1984, were friends of the Jessop family. The kids played together. The wives were close friends.

In 2015, Hoover - like so many cowards - took his own life. Even so, he watched for decades as his wife visited little Christine’s grave…emotionless. In 2020, DNA from a sample of Hoover’s blood from his autopsy proved conclusively…that Hoover was Christine Jessop’s rapist and murderer.

The proof came late for everyone, including Guy Paul Morin, who was charged and convicted on circumstantial evidence without DNA evidence. After what was then the longest murder trial in Canadian history…Morin was sentenced to life imprisonment. But Hoover’s DNA from the blood from his autopsy matched the DNA in semen found on Christine Jessop’s underwear 40 years before. After years in prison, DNA exonerated Morin.

There are hundreds of other murder and rape cases - new and old - that fall short of justice served. Sometimes, the victims and their families are simply left with another important finding…the truth. We need to spend the money for DNA testing. What’s more important than truth and justice?

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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