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 the green light to the method, a key police official said.
The practice, known as familial searching, is currently in use in 10 states and is 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 testing in place as soon as possible and will be arguing for its use, along with officials from the staff of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, at a special public meeting of a DNA subcommittee of the New York State Commission on Forensic Science on Feb. 10.
Vetrano was strangled and sexually assaulted while running through Spring Creek Park on Aug 2, near her home. DNA evidence was recovered but there was no matching profile in the 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, with O’Neill and Brown last month putting out forceful statements calling for its use in New York and politicians like state Senator Phil Boyle (R-Suffolk) in support. Katranakis acknowledged that the Vetrano case was the impetus for the interest.
Vetrano’s parents Philip and Catherine, as well as a host of other 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 yesterday.
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 that hasn’t been 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 already in the state DNA database who may be relatives of the 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, said Katranakis. 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.