Hacked web­site DNA led po­lice to wrong man in se­rial killer case

Sunday News - - WORLD -

LOS AN­GE­LES In­ves­ti­ga­tors hunt­ing the so-called Golden State Killer used in­for­ma­tion from ge­netic web­sites last year that led to the wrong man, court records ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press show.

An Ore­gon po­lice of­fi­cer work­ing at the re­quest of Cal­i­for­nia in­ves­ti­ga­tors per­suaded a judge to or­der a 73-year-old man in an Ore­gon City nurs­ing home to pro­vide a DNA sam­ple. It is not clear if of­fi­cers col­lected the sam­ple and ran fur­ther tests, but he was not the man ar­rested this week out­side Sacra­mento in one of the state’s most no­to­ri­ous string of se­rial rapes and killings.

The case of mis­taken iden­tity was dis­cov­ered as au­thor­i­ties hailed a novel use of DNA tech­nol­ogy that led this week to the ar­rest of for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer Joseph DeAn­gelo at his house out­side Sacra­mento on mur­der charges. He is sus­pected of be­ing the sadis­tic at­tacker who killed 13 peo­ple and raped nearly 50 women dur­ing the 1970s and ‘80s.

Hand­cuffed to a wheel­chair in or­ange jail scrubs, DeAn­gelo made his first court ap­pear­ance yes­ter­day. The 72-year-old looked dazed and spoke in a faint voice to ac­knowl­edge that he was be­ing rep­re­sented by a pub­lic de­fender. He did not en­ter a plea.

DeAn­gelo has been charged with eight counts of mur­der. Ad­di­tional charges were ex­pected, au­thor­i­ties said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors were able to make the ar­rest af­ter match­ing crime scene DNA with ge­netic ma­te­rial stored in an on­line data­base by a dis­tant rel­a­tive of DeAn­gelo. They re­lied on a dif­fer­ent web­site than they had in the Ore­gon search, and they did not seek a war­rant for DeAn­gelo’s DNA. In­stead, they waited for him to dis­card items and then swabbed the ob­jects for DNA, which proved a con­clu­sive match to the ev­i­dence that had been pre­served more than 30 years.

Also yes­ter­day, the co-founder of the ge­neal­ogy web­site used by au­thor­i­ties said he had no idea its data­base was tapped in pur­suit of the sus­pect who had eluded law en­force­ment for four decades.

Au­thor­i­ties never ap­proached Florida-based GED­match about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to DeAn­gelo. The site’s co-founder, Cur­tis Rogers, said law en­force­ment’s use of the site raised pri­vacy con­cerns that were echoed by civil lib­er­ties groups.

The free ge­neal­ogy web­site, which pools DNA pro­files that peo­ple up­load and share pub­licly to find rel­a­tives, said it had al­ways told users that its data­base could be used for other pur­poses.

How­ever, Rogers said the com­pany did not ‘‘hand out data’’.

‘‘This was done with­out our knowl­edge, and it’s been over­whelm­ing.’’

For the team of in­ves­ti­ga­tors, GED­match was one of the best tools, lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor Paul Holes said. Of­fi­cials did not need a court AP or­der to ac­cess GED­match’s large data­base of ge­netic blue­prints, he said.

Civil lib­er­tar­i­ans say the prac­tice raises le­gal and pri­vacy con­cerns for the mil­lions of peo­ple who sub­mit their DNA to such sites to dis­cover their her­itage.

A year ear­lier, Holes had iden­ti­fied a rare ge­netic marker in the as­sailant’s DNA. He en­tered the in­for­ma­tion among 189,000 pro­files at the ge­neal­ogy web­site YSearch.org, and the re­sults led to a rel­a­tive of the Ore­gon man.

A spokes­woman for Fam­i­lyTreeDNA.com, which op­er­ates YSearch.org, said the com­pany wasn’t con­tacted by law en­force­ment.

Sacra­mento District At­tor­ney Anne Marie Schu­bert said she was un­aware of the Ore­gon mis­fire. AP

Joseph James DeAn­gelo ap­pears in court yes­ter­day. He en­tered no plea to eight charges of mur­der.

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