State considers expanding DNA searches in crimes
by Patrick Kearns
Feb 15, 2017 | 3977 views | 0 0 comments | 159 159 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The parents of slain Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano are using their daughter’s death and lengthy murder investigation to advocate for an expanded DNA search program in New York State.

On Friday at a hearing of the state Commission on Forensic Science, Phil and Cathie Vetrano and other family and community members implored the commission to implement familial DNA testing.

The search strategy, currently being used in ten other states, searches the state DNA database for a close “family” match to DNA collected by police at a crime scene.

“It’s not evidence of guilt, only a potential investigative lead,” said Mike Green, commissioner of the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

In Ohio, the technique was credited with taking a serial rapist and pedophile off the streets, and in California it was used to solve the murder of Karen Klaus, the late wife of Righteous Brothers singer Bill Medley.

Last week, Phil Vetrano was the first to address the commission.

“There are many families that are in the same situation as my family and myself,” he said. “But we could prevent other families from ever being in my world. Familial searching would not only help bring closure to grieving families, but will also prevent crimes.

“Even if one life is spared, if just one family isn’t put in a living hell for the rest of their lives, it’s worth everything,” he added.

During her testimony, Cathie Vetrano said no one who has had a child or family member murdered would oppose the procedure.

“It tells me that despite your education, whatever your journey in life was, your life experiences, your profession, your jobs,” she said, “it tells me that your child was not brutally murdered.”

A petition supporting familial testing created by Vetrano's cousin Maria Wurpel has over 100,000 signatures, as well as 34,000 more on change.org.

“Knowing that there is an effective tool available that could possibly bring criminals to justice and remove savage beasts from the streets, but could not be utilized because it is not legal in New York, prompted this petition,” said Wurpel. “Cases should not go cold, victims and their families have a right to justice.

Howard Beach resident Dorothy McCloskey shared her own story of a man that broke into her home 18 years ago and beat her and her 15-month-old son.

She was the last of six families victimized during the yearlong crime spree before the suspect was finally caught.

“At that time had DNA been enacted, nevermind familial DNA, we would have caught him and I wouldn't have been a part of that,” she said.

The American Civil Liberties Union is in opposition to the expanded test, noting in a statement that all DNA searches raise privacy and civil rights concerns.

“It arbitrarily creates two classes of people,” the statement read, “relatives of convicted persons who are subject to the technique and other people who are not.

“It would massively expand the effective reach of forensic DNA databases, beyond the 9 million people now included, to the tens of millions of additional people who are their immediate relatives,” the statement continued.

While the commission considers familial DNA testing, a group of lawmakers is looking to pass legislation that would allow law enforcement agencies to use the test in cases where all other investigative leads have been exhausted.

The bill passed the State Senate last week.

“Our state has the capability and the technology to find murders, rapists and other felons,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo. “We should not sit idly by while those criminals walk our streets.”
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