Amateur genealogists use popular genealogy websites such as MyHeritage, 23andMe, and Ancestry to sleuth out familial DNA matches, unearthing connections to long-lost cousins, coloring in spotty family trees, and discovering ancestral origins in far-off lands. Recently, however, as police departments have turned to commercial genealogy websites to trace anonymous crime scene DNA to suspects and […]
When a notorious serial killer was arrested earlier this year thanks to the DNA of a relative.. it opened the door to a sea change in crime fighting. Forensic techniques have advanced dramatically since the first use of fingerprint technology. But Lisa Fletcher reports on a new Science of Sleuthing.. That’s also raising concern. Watch […]
Your DNA is the next big privacy battleground Are we on the verge of another Cambridge Analytica-type meltdown? Lawyer Stephen Mercer thinks so. Except this time, it’s our own DNA we should be worried about. Mercer has practiced at the intersection of DNA and civil liberties since 2002, when he litigated the first constitutional challenge […]
The Golden State Killer’s arrest last week brought closure to victims and community members affected by a ten year spree of rapes and murder. The trail went cold in 1986, and it stayed that way until the FBI made a fake profile for the killer on a genealogy website. They used this to […]
More than a million Americans are sharing their DNA with ancestry websites. That helped the cops find the Golden State Killer. Good police work, but troubling implications for privacy.
Owens’ steadfastness “paid a large dividend here,” Mercer said. “He was willing to go to trial and risk it all and only settled when there was a number that speaks loudly to his actual innocence and the wrongfulness of his conviction and incarceration.”
In Today, Explained by Vox, Sean Rameswaram talks with Steve Mercer about the DNA familial searching in the Golden State Killer case opening Pandora’s box.
Steve Mercer interviewed by FOX5 DC. WASHINGTON – Authorities have revealed that they were able to track down California’s most elusive killer by using a genealogy website. After the major break in the decades-old case of the Golden State Killer, the usage of familial data in a police investigation is now in the spotlight. Investigators […]
As they sought a breakthrough in the cold case of the man known as the Golden State Killer and the East Area Rapist, law enforcement officers pursued new avenues to find a DNA match. The man’s last known crime was in 1986, when forensic use of DNA technology was just beginning. On Tuesday, authorities arrested […]
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Investigators who used a genealogical website to find the ex-policeman they believe is a shadowy serial killer and rapist who terrified California decades ago call the technique ground-breaking. But others say it raises troubling legal and privacy concerns for the millions of people who submit their DNA to such sites to […]
A Baltimore case shows just how far prosecutors will go to keep a win on the books. In 1987, police detectives — who’d later be made famous by David Simon, creator of The Wire — used flimsy evidence to pin a burglary, rape, and murder case on James Thompson and James Owens. Both men were both sentenced […]
“Having been convicted really defines who you are—it becomes itself a prison,” Mercer said. “Once out, with a conviction still on your shoulders, having maintained your innocence in a Alford plea is of little comfort and of very little practical benefit.”
Stephen Mercer disagrees. “Of course they’re gonna come up with analogies that seem to do away with any sense of wrongdoing or any sense of violation of privacy by the government. So, they say, ‘Oh, well this is like a partial plate, and we’re just following up on these leads….,” he says.
“And what’s wrong with that?” Stahl asks.
“Because it’s not a partial plate. We’re talking about DNA. DNA is different. DNA contains a vast amount of intensely personal information,” Mercer says.
Featured on HBO’s VICE News, Steve Mercer was featured as Antonia Hylton visits one police department where collecting genetic information has become routine.
Juvenile courts have become real-life Scrooges to young adults trying to turn their lives around after troubled childhoods. The courts are imposing unnecessary administrative fees and subjecting those unable to pay to harsh collection penalties that disrupt families, schools and work. A juvenile court is responsible for the rehabilitation of youths, not preventing successful — […]
The leads have dried up in the killing of a young woman in Queens during a jog last summer. Tips about potential suspects have gone nowhere. A reward has failed to bear fruit, even as it has swelled to over $280,000. And the samples of a stranger’s DNA found on the hands, throat and cellphone of the jogger, […]
Baltimore men, yet prosecutors would only let them go if they agreed to controversial plea deals. Despite new evidence undermining the convictions of at least eight men for violent crimes in both Baltimore City and County over the last two decades, none were exonerated. Instead, they left prison only after agreeing to plea deals with […]
The FBI has notified crime labs across the country that it has discovered errors in data used by forensic scientists in thousands of cases to calculate the chances that DNA found at a crime scene matches a particular person, several people familiar with the issue said. The bureau has said it believes the errors, which […]
He roamed the streets of Sacramento for six years, raping women as they walked to work or headed home from parties in the dark. To keep them from fighting back, he smashed their heads with rocks and wrapped his hands around their necks. Sometimes he threatened them with a gun. Police became frustrated, unable to identify him even though they had his DNA […]
A new technique that searches DNA databases has generated controversy because it can draw innocent people into criminal investigations. A number of law enforcement officials have hailed the advent of “familial DNA searching” in which genetic material found at a crime scene resembles an existing profile but does not provide an exact match. Civil liberties […]
The man accused in Phoenix’s “Canal Killer” case may have his ancestors to blame for his 2015 arrest. Records show forensic genealogy was key in leading police to Bryan Patrick Miller, a man now facing a death-penalty trial in the early 1990s slayings of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas. Using a method with little precedent in the world of […]
Local police jurisdictions have increasingly been creating their own DNA databases, which exist outside of federal regulation. Our guest Frederick Harran is the director of public safety of the Bensalem Police Department in Pennsylvania, and his department began creating a DNA database in 2010. Also joining us is Stephen Mercer, chief attorney for the Forensics Division of the Maryland Office of the […]
The practice of “familial searching” is causing a conflict between solving crimes and protecting privacy. Police can now take DNA from a crime scene and compare it to millions of DNA samples in a government database. If there is even a partial match, that could lead to the criminal by way of his or […]