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Queens DA Seeks Broader DNA Testing To Help Identify Suspects in Cold Cases

By Murray Weiss | December 8, 2016 5:31pm
 Karina Vetrano, 30, was found in running trails in the Gateway National Recreation Center near her home.
Karina Vetrano, 30, was found in running trails in the Gateway National Recreation Center near her home.
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KEW GARDENS — Queens District Attorney Richard Brown is calling on the state to conduct broader DNA database searches that might identify relatives of possible suspects in cold cases such as the unsolved murder of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano.

In Vetrano’s case, her 26-year-old body was found strangled, partially stripped and beaten in a wooded area near her home. Detectives retrieved DNA from under her fingernails, and on her neck and cell phone, but the samples did not match any offender's stored in the state's data banks.

The DA wants the state to conduct broader “familial searching,” which might identify offenders with virtually the same DNA, and are likely related to the suspect they are trying to identify.

“This technology has proven effective at generating important DNA investigative leads in cold cases in many other states and thus it could presumably help to solve any number of New York State cases,” Brown said in a letter sent Thursday to Michael Green, the Commissioner of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Service.

Familial searching involves special DNA testing on “Y” chromosomes, which are paternally inherited, and can point to possible links to a father, uncle, brother or son.

The process is presently employed in nine states, including California, Florida, Colorado and Wisconsin.

Brown's request is being supported by NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill.

"The Commission will continue to work closely with our partners in local law enforcement to provide them the most cutting-edge tools they need to investigate and solve crimes, without compromising individual protections,” said Janine Kava, a spokeswoman for the New York State Commission on Forensic Science, a subsidiary of the Division of Criminal Justice Service that would rule on allowing familial searching.

Without a DNA hit, NYPD investigators have hit an impasse in the Vetrano case, having ruled out virtually everyone she knows. They believe Vetrano was either the victim of a random attack or was killed by someone who has never served time in state prison.

“This tragic murder has been exhaustively investigated using every tool currently available,” Brown wrote. “The killer remains at large, the public remains in danger, and the suffering of the victim’s family is amplified by law enforcement’s inability to yet solve this most awful crime.

“The victim, her family and the public deserve justice and we have an obligation to use every means at our disposal to identify the murderer. I believe that familial searching can be a powerful investigative tool.”