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Thread: DNA and Trials

  1. #1
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    DNA and Trials

    According to this article, DeSalvo could not have been the Boston Strangler.

    For murder cases that are years and years old, do you think it is worth exhuming bodies and the like if what your evidence seeks to prove is only that someone did *not* commit a crime? I can totally agree with exhumation or other means if it will confirm an assailent, because it can help give closure and peace to family members - but to prove someone was not? Especially in the case of DeSalvo, who was never really believed to begin with? I question that...

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    Re: DNA and Trials

    The question is more: does the family feel it is worth it to exume the body? They would also have to decide if they wanted to do this.

    If my family member was accused of being a serial killer and there was a chance that his/her name could be exonerated, I think I would like to know whether or not they were, in fact, innocent. That can give closure and peace to any surviving relatives of DeSalvo. On the other hand, it could open wounds for the families or relatives that have survived.

    This is not that surprising, however. A lot of people in recent times have even been trying to prove distant relations innocent of charges of being "witches" from the Salem witch trials. They just covered this on one of the news stations not too long ago. The urge to prove someone innocent, even if way in the past, is pretty strong.

    As the article says, he was never charged with the actual serial slayings, but, rather with a rape assault. And there were many questions about his case at the time and there was wide assumption that there was more than one killer. The strangle murders did stop after DeSalvo's arrest, however. The same applied to the Atlanta Child Murders, which Wayne Williams was charged with. There was a huge debate at the time about the lack of evidence. And, once again, the murders did completely stop after his arrest.

    The DNA results are curious too because DeSalvo, at the time of his arrest, was able to provide details of certain murders, such as Anna Slesers and Sophie Clark, that were not released to the press at that time. There was a lot of other stuff as well.

    DeSalvo knew there was a notebook under the bed of victim number eight, Beverly Samans. He also knew that Christmas bells were attached to Patricia Bissette's door. He drew accurate floor plans of the victims' apartments. He said he had taken a raincoat from Anna Slesers's apartment to wear over his T-shirt because he had taken off his bloodstained shirt and jacket. Detectives found that the victim had bought two identical coats and had given one to a relative. They showed the duplicate to DeSalvo, along with fourteen other raincoats tailored in different styles. DeSalvo picked the right one immediately.

    So, for me, I would want that DNA test checked and then rechecked.

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    Re: DNA and Trials

    I don't know the details of the case nearly as well as Jeff does, so I'll speak just to DNA and forensic evidence.

    DNA evidence is kinda tricky. A slick prosecuter could use it to his or her advantage if he or she knows that the jury isn't strong in scientific knowledge. Let's face it, the great majority of the population really doesn't get into this stuff, nor do they care to (QA Forums audience, however, probably is skewed a little more toward the sciences). Hey, I feel the same way about art history. If I like it, I like it...and I leave it at that.

    One MAJOR point about DNA evidence that gets glossed over is that it absolutely cannot 100% determine whether a person is a match. It can say a group of people are a match, but not a specific person.

    However, it can prove 100% that a person was not associated with a crime.

    How this all works is for another posting, but it has to do with DNA sequences at the nucleotide level, whether those specific sequences used in testing are variable enough to make a distiction, and the kind of process used in testing.

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    Moderator Joe Strazzere's Avatar
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    Re: DNA and Trials

    <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by QAGirl:
    According to this article, DeSalvo could not have been the Boston Strangler.
    <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

    But the DNA evidence doesn't show that DeSalvo could not have been the Boston Strangler.

    There was evidence removed from one of the victims. The DNA found on that evidence doesn't match DeSalvo. That's all.

    That doesn't mean that DeSalvo didn't kill the victim. It just means that this evidence doesn't match DeSalvo.

    This also doesn't mean that DeSalvo didn't kill the others.

    The media is often careless with it's analysis of evidence.

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    Re: DNA and Trials

    The key to remember with DNA testing is that there are two major types used in a case like this: RFLP and PCR.

    The DNA from crime-scene evidence is cut into small fragments with something called a restriction enzyme. The restriction enzyme recognizes a particular short sequence such as TTAA that occurs many times in a given cell's DNA. For something like RFLP to work, the analyst needs thousands of cells. If thousands of cells are present from a single individual, they will all be cut in the exact same place along their DNA by the enzyme because each cell's DNA is identical to every other cell of the same person. Thus, by this method, you can determine a specific person. DNA is a very accurate fingerprint; that is why paternity tests work. RFLP, however, is usually not used in crime scene work. PCR is generally used instead.

    However, it all depends on degradation and contamination of the DNA itself, which can be considerable.

    And, as Joe, said, the absence of DeSalvo's DNA does not, a priori, suggest he did not do the crimes. (There was often speculation that there were two killers.)

    And, beyond all that, we have to remember that DeSalvo was actually never charged with those crimes. He recanted his original confession.

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    Re: DNA and Trials

    <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by jstrazzere:
    The media is often careless with it's analysis of evidence.

    <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

    Fair point, Joe. It goes a bit with what Jordan was saying about results from DNA analysis being 'skewed' in some cases to match what you wish for the jury to believe (depending on the prosecution or defense use of the evidence).

    Jeff, I wasn't so much saying that I don't think the family has a valid point - the victim's family wanted this even more than the DeSalvo family from other articles I've read. DeSalvo's family has always maintained his innocence. I suspect that you and Joe are both correct in stating he possibly took part in other murders, or was a secondary participant.

    I guess I just wonder at the exhumation of bodies when, as Jordan says, DNA evidence is not even always conclusive. And if you consider both you and Joe's argument that he likely took part in murders, or in the case of mass murders where it is believed there were either multiple participants or an 'original' killer and someone who 'takes over where they left off', what does anyone hope to prove? So now they have proven that DeSalvo does not appear to have killed that one particular woman. We haven't determined that definatively. And we've solved nothing with regard to other cases.

    Just seems a waste of time and resources...

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    Re: DNA and Trials

    It probably is a waste of time for the most part since, in reality, it would really prove nothing. It depends how much emotion, rather than logic, is used by the families in this case.

    I think the reason this is making such big news is because DNA testing itself is such big news now. We just had four men here in Chicago released after a decade in jail because of alleged DNA evidence that shows they did not do the crime. The O.J. Simpson trial was a perfect example of good DNA evidence that was, nevertheless, made to seem inconclusive by the defense arguing against it and the prosecution doing a completely lackluster job. (It did not help that the members of the jury could probably not even spell "DNA" much less make informed opinions on it.)

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    Re: DNA and Trials

    <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by JeffNyman:
    (It did not help that the members of the jury could probably not even spell "DNA" much less make informed opinions on it.)

    <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

    Gee, Jeff, how do you really feel?

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    Annemarie Martin
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