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Slain jogger’s parents push new DNA techique to solve killing

Phil and Cathie Vetrano, parents of Karina Vetrano

Phil and Cathie Vetrano, parents of Karina Vetrano who was killed last August and whose killer remains at large, hold a rally in Howard Beach, on Feb. 2, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The parents of slain Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano, surrounded by dozens of friends and some local politicians, held a rally near where their daughter died to implore state lawmakers to adopt an emerging method of DNA analysis to help find her killer.

With a cold wind at their backs, Philip and Catherine Vetrano stood where Karina, 30, entered Spring Creek Park for the last jog of her life on Aug. 2.

“My daughter, barely 100 pounds, fought her last moments alive, was fighting this evil savage,” said an emotional Catherine Vetrano. “We cannot let her effort go in vain.”

“This is a proven method and I dare anyone who opposes this, to have their child have fought and been murdered brutally, and tell me there is a logical reason not to pursue this demon,” she said.

Ten states, including California, allow familial searching. Known by the abbreviation “FS,” the methodology is a two-step process that uses probability rankings and then analysis of the Y-chromosome to locate possible family members of an unknown suspect. The possible relatives would be those whose DNA profiles already exists in the database. In the Vetrano case, police found unknown DNA on her body but found no match for it among genetic profiles in the state database.

Vetrano was strangled and sexually assaulted. Police have sorted through hundreds of leads but have found no suspect.

If a potential suspect is identified through the relative, police can then use investigative methods to obtain DNA samples from the person or, in some cases, get the subject’s consent to give a DNA sample. The technique has actually exonerated people who became persons of interest, police said.

After Newsday ran a story on Nov. 28 about familial searching, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown issued forceful statements asking state officials to allow the method. Philip Vetrano said he will be testifying at a special state forensic science committee meeting on Feb. 10.

Critics contend that familial searching may invade a person’s privacy or in some cases lead to wrongful arrests. But Philip Vetrano said any privacy concerns are trumped by the need to solve crimes.

State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) has introduced legislation to authorize familial searching and said the method has led to exonerations in Britain, where it has been used since 2006 to solve crimes. Boyle said he expected his measure to pass the Senate next week. Assemb. Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Beach) said she is sponsoring a similar bill in the Assembly.

“Justice is hard, and the Vetrano family knows that all too well,” Amato said. “Let us not make it harder by keeping ourselves from using the tools we already have.”

State Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. (D-Ozone Park) told the crowd that all five district attorneys support the use of familial searching. “For the sake of law enforcement, for the sake of investigators, for the sake of family members who are grieving, how, how can we look them in the eye and see we are not going to do familial DNA,” asked Addabbo, adding that issues of privacy and wrongful convictions can be addressed legislatively.

“We can sit back and do nothing and let these murderers, killers and rapists be out there, or we can do something,” Addabbo said.

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