SACRAMENTO, California – Investigators who hunted the so-called Golden State killer used information from genetic sites that led to the wrong man last year, court records received by The Associated on Friday
A police officer from Oregon, who worked at the request of Californian investigators, persuaded a judge in March 2017 to order a 73-year-old man in a nursing home to provide a DNA sample. It is not clear whether officers collected the sample and carried out further tests.
The man in Oregon City is in declining health and could not answer questions on Friday.
His daughter said the authorities had never notified her before she wiped her dad DNA in his bed a rehabilitation center, but as soon as she told her about it later, she understood and worked with them to eliminate people who might be the killer could be.
The case of confusion was discovered when authorities welcomed a novel use of DNA technology this week leading to the arrest of former police officer Joseph DeAngelo at his home outside Sacramento for murder. Critics of the investigative approach, however, warned that this could jeopardize privacy.
DeAngelo is suspected of being the sadistic attacker who killed 13 people and raped nearly 50 women in the 1970s and 1980s.
Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, who is believed to be the so-called Golden State Killer, responsible for at least a dozen murders and 50 rapes in the 1970s and 1980s, accompanied by Sacramento County Attorney Diane Howard, right, when he made his first appearance on Friday, April 27, 2018, in the Sacramento County Superior Court in Sacramento, California (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Handcuffed in orange prison suitcases, DeAngelo made his first appearance on Friday. The 72-year-old looked dazed and spoke in a low voice to acknowledge that he was represented by a public defender. He was not charged.
He was charged with murder in eight cases, and further charges are expected, the authorities said.
"We have the law to propose that he is innocent until he is guilty and that's what I'll ask everyone to remember," said DeAngelo's defense attorney Diane Howard in court. "I feel like he has already been put on trial in the press."
Investigators were able to conduct the arrest this week after gathering crime scene DNA with genetic material in an online database of a distant relative. They relied on a website other than the Oregon search, and they did not seek a warrant for DeAngelo's DNA.
Instead, they waited for objects to be discarded, and then wiped the objects for DNA, which proved to be a consistent match to prove that more than 30 years had been preserved.
The co-founder of the Genealogy website, which was used by the authorities to identify DeAngelo, said he had no idea that his database had been found for the suspect for four decades.
Authorities never approached Florida-based GEDmatch about the investigation that led to DeAngelo, and co-founder Curtis Rogers said law enforcement's use of the privacy issue raised privacy issues that echoed through civil liberties groups.
Free genealogy website that publicly summarize DNA profiles that people upload and share to find relatives, said that it always informs users its database can be used for other purposes. However, Rogers said the company did not distribute data.
"This happened without our knowledge, and it was overwhelming," he told the Associated Press.
For the team of investigators, GEDmatch was one of "The Best Tools," senior investigator Paul Holes told the Mercury News in San Jose.
Officials did not need a court order to access GEDmatch's large database of genetic blueprints, Holes said. Large commercial DNA companies say they do not give law enforcement agencies access to their genetic data without a court order.
Civil rights attorneys said the practice raises legal and privacy concerns for the millions of people who visit their heritage
Privacy laws are not strong enough to deter police from gaining access to ancestral sites that have less protection have as regulated databases of convicts, said Steve Mercer, chief attorney of the forensic department of the Maryland Office of the Defender.
"People who test DNA for ancestors unknowingly become genetic informants about their innocent family," Mercer said.
While people may not realize that police can use public genealogy websites to solve crime, it's probably legal, said Erin Murphy, a DNA expert and professor at the New York University School of Law.
"It seems crazy to say that a police officer investigating a very serious offense can not do something your cousin can do," Murphy said, "If a common person can do that, why can not a policeman? On the other hand, if an ordinary person had done so, we might think they should not. While most consumers would send DNA to a commercial company such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe to create a genetic profile, the FBI told Holes this the New York Times
The profile was then with a false profile and A pseudonym uploaded to GEDmatch, the Times reported, allowing users to remain anonymous.
A year earlier, Holes had identified a rare genetic marker in the attacker's DNA, sharing the information among 189,000 profiles on the YSearch genealogy website .org, and the findings led to a relative of the Oregon man.
A spokeswoman for FamilyTreeDNA.com, which operates YSearch.org, said the company was not
"While we respect the privacy and confidentiality of our customers very seriously, we support ethically and legally justified applications of groundbreaking advances in scientific research in Ge netics and genealogy, "company representatives said in a statement.
The man's daughter said the family was unaware that the authorities had taken a DNA sample from him until the FBI contacted her in April 2017 to help her expand the family's genetic family tree Looking for a suspect to ask. The family did not know until Friday, when she read an AP story in which a judge issued a warrant for the DNA sample.
The woman spoke with AP on condition of anonymity because she did not want to publicly link the family's name to the case
Sacramento Public Prosecutor Anne Marie Schubert told AP that she was getting the misfire unrecognized in Oregon, and genealogical sites were not used, as far as she knows, before DeAngelo was identified.
DNA was used as a criminal Investigative tool in 1986, when the predator, also known as the East Area Rapist, ended his decade-long wave of attacks.
As a former police officer, DeAngelo would probably have known about the new method, experts said.
At the time, they suspected that they were persecuting a policeman or a military member because he was so methodical and meticulous, said Wendell Phillips, a former Sacramento legislator, who went in search of the rapist who took the suburbs east
In fact, officers assigned to a special task force had to submit saliva samples to exclude someone who shared a genetic trait, Phillips said. About 85 percent of people secrete their blood type in saliva and body fluids, but the rape suspect was in about 15 percent who did not.
"Obviously, you did not want the East Area Rapist on the team." Phillips said. "That turned out to be a pretty good worry."
Balsamo reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press authors Brian Melley of Los Angeles, Gillian Flaccus of Oregon City, Oregon, and Matt O'Brien of Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to the report.
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