Saturday, September 19, 2009

Missing DNA

The story is not exactly new, but I am starting to look into the case of the missing DNA.

WTMJ provides a report of the case, which by the reports have some 12,000 records with missing DNA. The recent arrest of a serial killer who was a convicted felon spurred the discovery.

Now, the reports I am also reading indicate Ellis (the serial murderer) appears to have convinced another felon to provide the DNA. So in this case, the DNA is not missing but inaccurate. I am quite skeptical there are 12,000 instances where one felon obtained DNA from another prisoner and submitted it as his/her own; if so, this shows the DOC is more trusting of felons than employers are of employees and it is easier to cheat the felon DNA database than of a pre-employment drug screening — and I find that scandalous.

This Yahoo story provides some more details:
The database has between 120,000 and 130,000 profiles, Hamblin said. Some of the missing ones may be from people convicted of felonies but sentenced to probation, meaning they never reported to prison to have a sample taken, he added.
Authorities have said they might have focused on Ellis sooner if his DNA were in the state database, as it should have been if a sample were taken when he served an earlier prison term. Ellis pleaded no contest in 1998 to second-degree reckless injury.

The state crime lab did receive a sample in 2001 that had Ellis' name on it, Van Hollen said. When it was put in the database, the system matched it to a previous sample under a different inmate's name, so it registered as a duplicate and no profile was entered for Ellis, he said.
Source: Yahoo News — Audit: Wisc. database missing DNA of 12K felons
Now, one of the thoughts entering my mind was that of a problem with the storage & retrieval system (aka the computers)? That does not appear to be the case, as this and other articles are pointing at poor procedures or lack of follow up. However, computer bugs are more than capable of losing those records.

I do not know about DNA record storage, but it is an established fact a person has unique DNA (however, there are exceedingly rare cases where DNA tests can not distinguish between two individuals) and that leads me to be believe duplicate DNA records for two supposed different individuals should lead to immediate action in order to reconcile the DNA samples and to initiate corrective action.

Now, the fact that Ellis was able to get another felon to pass off another felon's DNA as his own indicates to me the procedures used to collect the samples are faulty too. I did a little googling on this matter and did not find out too much but that the state of Missouri accepts "blood or scientifically acceptable biological sample" I detect a euphemism and my guess is sample collection kits include a copy of the latest Penthouse Magazine. So, I suppose, Felon X could ask/coerce/convince/whatever Felon Y to provide a sample of "genetic material" but that should be caught by using the same sort of techniques used in pre-employment drug screening, no?

The last area of focus is that of felons who are sentenced to probation only. Those individuals, I would think, should be remanded to the nearest jail capable of handling them until their sample is collected and verified.