A top New York State forensic science body on Friday approved the use of the emerging DNA technique of familial searching, a method used in 10 other states that has led to the solving of numerous cold-case murders.
By a vote of 9-2, the state Commission on Forensic Science approved the use of the genetic technique, which could start being used in New York in the fall, officials said.
In a statement, the commission said familial searching is a policy “which will provide law enforcement with a proven scientific tool to help investigate and solve serious crimes, obtain justice for victims and exonerate the innocent” without compromising individual privacy.
Familial testing is a two-step process in which unmatched DNA found at a crime scene is analyzed for similarities with known samples in state databases and then subject to an analysis of the Y chromosome to find family members of a possible suspect. Those family members and other leads may direct cops to a suspect.
The technique gained traction in New York with the killing last August of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano. Detectives found DNA at the crime scene but had no match with any samples in state databases. After months of frustration, detectives finally made an arrest in her case in February by examining old police-stop reports.
After a Newsday story last November highlighted the technology, the Vetrano family lobbied for familial searching even after cops had made an arrest in Vetrano’s case, noting its usefulness in solving cold cases. The NYPD commissioner and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown were vocal proponents of familial searching as well.
“This is a positive accomplishment, an amazing accomplishment,” Vetrano’s father, Philip Vetrano, told Newsday after Friday’s vote. “It will absolutely help other people; it is going to solve cases.”
The family held a news conference Friday at Spring Creek Park, where Vetrano died, with state Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), a proponent of the technique. There, Vetrano’s mother Catherine Vetrano read an emotional statement, saying that the new procedure “was one of the many gifts that my magnificent daughter will bring forth in this world.”
Brown also issued a statement saying the commission’s action has “insured more victims will receive justice, the public will be safer, and we in law enforcement can better guard against wrongful arrest and conviction.”