The Queens district attorney this week asked the state to approve a new type of DNA analysis in the hopes it would help police develop additional leads in the case of a female jogger found strangled in Howard Beach in August.
The body of Karina Vetrano, 30, who was sexually assaulted, was found near a bicycle path at the north end of Spring Creek Park the night of Aug. 2.
“This tragic murder had been exhaustively investigated using every tool available, but it remains unsolved,” District Attorney Richard A. Brown said in a letter to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services released Thursday.
Brown asked that the division’s Commission on Forensic Science approve the use of what is known as “familial DNA search,” a controversial method that allows investigators to identify suspects whose genetic profiles are not in a law enforcement database but whose relatives have had their DNA cataloged.
A traditional DNA search is successful only if there is a match with a known genetic profile already in a database. Familial DNA searches let authorities expand the search to effectively include relatives of the people whose genetic profiles are in that database.
Janine Kava, a spokeswoman for Division of Criminal Justice Services, did not say whether the commission will approve Brown’s request, but noted that familial DNA searches will be discussed Friday at the commission’s quarterly meeting in Manhattan.
“The Commission on Forensic Science is constantly evaluating scientific techniques to better assist law enforcement and obtain justice for victims,” she said. “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.”
Friday’s public debate over the use of familial DNA searches is the first step in the process of considering the potential use of such a method in New York, Kava said. Then, the commission’s DNA subcommittee must conduct a review and make recommendations to the commission.
Currently, familial DNA searches are done in nine other states, including California, Texas and Virginia. There are no laws in New York barring such techniques from being used here, Kava had said.
Officials said the main reason New York doesn’t use familial DNA searching is ambiguity in state laws and regulations governing DNA testing.
Vetrano went jogging in the afternoon and when she did not return, her father, Philip Vetrano, called police. Her body was found near the path not far from 161st Avenue and 78th Street.
Among the physical evidence NYPD recovered from Vetrano’s body was DNA belonging to a man, Brown said. Investigators searched New York State’s DNA database, which contains more than 600,000 DNA profiles, and a database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But the DNA profile did not match any known offenders.
Vetrano’s father, Philip Vetrano, 60, of Howard Beach, is lobbying officials to allow law enforcement to use this investigative tool to not only help solve his daughter’s killing but also help solve other crimes.
“This is a good tool and it’s a tool we need to use every day. Criminals need to be incarcerated and they need to be punished,” he said. “We’re working on it, and we have every law abiding citizens behind us.”