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How DNA from a Genealogy Site Identified the East Area Rapist

Jul 09, 2018 by Mike McKneely in Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes
Strands of DNA

The East Area Rapist, also known as the Golden State Killer, was finally caught and arrested in April 2018. A great deal of information had been obtained by the police and private investigators however they didn’t have enough information to identify and arrest the offender. In fact, it was DNA that was submitted to a genealogy site that finally identified the culprit which led to his arrest. Between 1976 and 1986, Joseph James DeAngelo is believed to have committed at least 51 rapes and 12 murders. He currently faces murder charges in Sacramento, Orange, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties. Many other counties have not filed rape charges due to the statute of limitations for those offenses.

If you or a loved one are facing charges for non-consensual intercourse it is important to consult an attorney as soon as possible. Call a Fresno rape defense lawyer at Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer at (559) 443-7442 to schedule a free case consultation.

Open Source DNA Leads to Arrest of Serial Rapist and Murderer

DeAngelo’s crimes were committed throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In recent years, the numerous rapes and homicides that were reported were considered cold cases. However in 2016, due to the rising interest in true crime, authorities began to formally revisit the case of the East Area Rapist. This started around the 40th anniversary of his known first attack.

The final piece of evidence that authorities needed to arrest DeAngelo was DNA. Genetic evidence and testing has advanced dramatically in recent years, far beyond the technology available in the 70s and 80s. Today, private businesses and law enforcement authorities have far greater access to DNA databases, due in part to genealogy websites and test kits. There are many individuals who are interested in learning more about their heritage and genetics. This leads them to submit samples of their DNA to private companies that, in return, provide certain information to the sender. To utilize these these services the sender agrees that the sample becomes the property of the business. Some of these businesses allow the DNA information to be an open source. This means that others can then utilize the information for their own purposes. For example, law enforcement authorities looking for DNA that matches samples obtained from crime scenes.

Paul Holes, a retired investigator with the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, used the website GEDmatch to determine if any of the site’s DNA samples matched the genetic information obtained at the East Area Rapist’s crime scenes. GEDmatch is a third-party site where individuals upload their genetic information to find relatives. The site’s policy specifically states that the information can be accessed and used by others.

Holes found that DNA evidence obtained at the crime scene matched a pool of DNA submitted to GEDmatch. It was further determined that the pool of DNA belonged to DeAngelo’s relatives. This was enough to lead the police to DeAngelo, who fit the offender’s profile. The police then confirmed DeAngelo’s identity as the East Area Rapist through a second DNA sample.

Legal Questions Regarding the DNA Match

Legal authorities are conflicted about the way in which DeAngelo was identified. Attorneys who focus on data privacy law say there is concern that the DNA evidence could be tossed out. There is certainly room for a defense attorney to argue that the DNA match was not appropriately obtained. Other attorneys believe it is unlikely that the DNA evidence will be tossed out since it does not appear DeAngelo’s constitutional rights were violated. It is difficult to determine the outcome of this argument until the evidence is presented at trial.

This is an issue criminal defense attorneys around the country will be watching closely. DNA evidence has become a focal point in many criminal trials. It is the presence of a defendant’s DNA at a crime scene which often supports a conviction. The fact that law enforcement agencies may begin to search DNA websites is of vital importance to defense teams and how they approach their client’s cases.

Facing Criminal Charges? Call Us Today

Due to the rise in popularity of DNA and genetic testing websites, certain crimes – including those committed by the East Area rapist – may be more easily solved. There are, however, several legal issues surrounding the collection of this type of evidence. If you are currently being charged with a crime based on DNA evidence, contact an experienced rape defense attorney from Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer today. Call us at (559) 443-7442, or reach out through our online form to schedule a free and confidential case consultation.

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