An innovative technique to analyze DNA evidence has the potential to help solve the killing of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano — as well as other crimes — and the NYPD will ask state officials next month to give them the green light to employ the method, a key police official said.
The technique, known as familial searching, is currently used in 10 states — a “powerful and valid scientific tool” the NYPD would like to see put in place in New York, said Deputy Chief Emmanuel Katranakis, commander of the department’s forensic investigations division.
Katranakis said in an interview earlier this week that the NYPD would like to see the testing in place as soon as possible. The department will argue for its use on Feb. 10, along with officials from the staff of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, at a special meeting of a DNA subcommittee of the New York State Commission on Forensic Science.
Vetrano was strangled and sexually assaulted while running through Spring Creek Park on Aug. 2 near her home. Investigators recovered DNA evidence at the crime scene but found no matching profiles in state databases and cops privately say the investigation is treading water. Three potential suspects have been ruled out, a source said.
A November story in Newsday highlighted familial DNA and since then interest has grown. In December, Police Commissioner James O’Neill and Brown released forceful statements calling for its use with politicians like state Senator Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore)voicing support. Katranakis acknowledged that the Vetrano case was the impetus for the interest.
Vetrano’s parents Philip and Catherine, as well as their family and friends, including community activist Dorothy McCloskey, plan to speak at the February meeting.
“We feel very positive this is going to go, ” Philip Vetrano said Thursday.
“There is no rest for Cathy and Phil until we find out who killed Karina,” McCloskey said Thursday.
Katranakis said familial searching is “potentially very beneficial in the Vetrano case” and could help out in robbery, rape and burglary cases as well.
Known by the abbreviation “FS,” familial searching seeks to analyze crime scene DNA not matched to genetic profiles already in state and local databases.
The two-step process uses probability rankings and analysis of the Y chromosome to identify people in the state DNA database who may be relatives of an unknown suspect. Once relatives are identified, police can use traditional investigative techniques to develop reasonable suspicion and then retrieve a DNA sample from a person of interest.
For now, New York only uses a rudimentary “partial match” system to find family linkage for unidentified DNA, a method which Katranakis indicated was hit or miss. In one instance, a partial match help actually clear someone from suspicion, Katranakis said. A more exacting familial search technique can also help to exonerate people, he noted.
Critics say FS can lead to “false positives,” but other experts said that is virtually impossible, given the need to actually match a suspect’s DNA profile with the crime scene sample.