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New technology solves 25 year cold case

Touch DNA

New technology solves 25 year cold case

Posted By IFS

Tuesday, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that he has written a letter to the head of the New York State Department of Health urging him to allow an advanced Dutch laboratory to perform a new DNA test, “touch DNA”, in the cold case of Kristin O’Connell, who was brutally murdered during a camping trip to Seneca County in 1985.

However, before the evidence can be used, the New York Department of Health must approve the use of an analysis from a foreign firm. Schumer said that while using an in-state lab was preferable, in cases where domestic firms don’t have the expertise in “touch DNA” technology, the health department should approve the use of a foreign analysis, especially from such a well respected firm.

“This is about justice for Kristin O’Connell, plain and simple,” Schumer said. “We must use every tool available to solve this case for the family, and to put the person who did this behind bars. If there is a technology out there that can solve this crime, then let’s stop the delays and let’s use it.”

Kristin O’Connell was a 20 year old Minnesota college student in 1985 when she visited a friend in New York’s Seneca County village of Ovid for a camping trip. O’Connell briefly left an evening party to go for a walk and get some air but she would never return from the walk. Two days later, she was found dead and brutally beaten in nearby cornfield. Since 1985, the O’Connell case has gone unsolved with few leads.

The Dutch laboratory offering to perform a new “touch DNA” test provides what may be the only opportunity to solve this tragedy. Ordinarily, investigations require the presence of substances such as blood or semen to perform a forensic examination, but the new technique allows forensic scientists to use outer-skin cells on pieces of evidence to identify a suspect. Although relatively new in scientific terms, the technique has been around for over five years and has been used in high profile cases like the JonBenet Ramsey murder case in Colorado.

Currently, the O’Connell family, prosecutors, state police and county investigators are all pushing for the new test, but the Department of Health has so far refused to sign off, thereby preventing this horrific crime from being more thoroughly investigated. Schumer is urging the New York Department of Health to allow the investigation to go forward so that justice may be served and the O’Connell family may finally receive closure after 25 years.

The full text of Senator Schumer’s letter to the New York Department of Health is below.

March 9, 2010

Dear Dr. Daines:
We write today strongly supporting the Seneca County District Attorney’s Office request for the use of a non-permitted forensic DNA testing laboratory in the investigation of the homicide case of Kristin M. O’Connell.

The case of Kristin M. O’Connell dates back to 1985. Kristin was a college student from Minnesota visiting a friend in Ovid, NY, when on the evening of August 14, 1985 at approximately 11 PM she went for a walk alone and did not return. Two days later, Kristin’s body was found in a cornfield by a search party. The crime scene was processed and evidence recovered. Items of evidence have been examined by various agencies over the past twenty-four years to little result.

Local prosecutors, law enforcement and the victim’s family believe that “touch DNA” analysis provides the best possibility of developing a DNA profile. Specifically, they argue that touch DNA specialists at Independent Forensic Services provide the best possibility of yielding case critical information. While other forensic laboratories work with this analysis, Independent Forensic Services has over 20 years experience in both locating and recovering biological traces, and has pioneered work with touch DNA since 1997.

While Independent Forensic Services, a Dutch lab, is not American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD LAB) accredited, its full ISO 17025 accreditation has been verified. Moreover, its work has been used in at least two trials before US courts and on numerous occasions in international courts.

Communities in New York and Minnesota have gone nearly a quarter of a century without closure. Allowing these forensic specialists access to the evidence of Kristin’s case provides the best opportunity for that justice. Therefore, we urge the New York State Department of Health to reconsider its denial of Seneca County’s request for the use of a non-permitted laboratory.

Thank you for your consideration and prompt attention to this matter.


Sen. Charles E. Schumer
Sen. Amy Klobuchar

(Information from the Office of New York Senator Charles Schumer)

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Expert witnesses for Casey Anthony comb over evidence. Few details are released

Touch DNA

Expert witnesses for Casey Anthony comb over evidence. Few details are released

Posted By IFS

The article below describes the viewing of the evidence by experts retained by Jose Baez in the case of the Casey Anthony. My wife Selma and me (Richard Eikelenboom) investigated the evidence for possible traces of DNA. Although the condition of most of the evidence was not good, it would have been possible to obtain DNA profiles from e.g. the duct tape which was placed on the body of Caylee and other items found at the crime scene. When the person who put the duct tape on the body of Caylee there is a big chance that quite a lot of DNA of this person sticks at the adhesive side of the tape. Samples could have been taken from the tape for touch DNA. We have had very good DNA results with duct tape. Unfortunately DA Ashton and the judge did not allow us to take samples. It was nice to work together with the other experts.  I will come back at the problem of truth finding, which seemed difficult for the DA’s in this case……

By Holly Bristow, FOX 35 News

ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) – Casey Anthony’s defense team and five of their expert witnesses spent all day at the Orange County Sheriffs Office Tuesday and plan on doing do the same Wednesday.

Jose Baez and Cheney Mason aren’t saying what evidence their team of experts is looking at today, just that there is quite a bit. “I think its close to 100,” said attorney Cheney Mason.

Mason told FOX 35 the team would mainly be focusing on evidence that crime scene investigators collected after a meter reader found Caylee Anthony’s remains on December 11, 2008. “Are you guys actually going to be able to test stuff today, take samples or just look at it?” asked FOX 35.

For the first time we saw the husband and wife forensics team flown in from Holland. They rolled in equipment they’ll be using to examine the evidence.

Dr. Richard Eikelenboom is know for his advances in touch DNA, a science where a few skin cells can be used to identify a suspect. His wife, Dr. Selma Eikelenboom is a coroner and forensic expert. She was brief when we asked what they’d be focusing on today.

“Just to look at some evidence. That’s it,” said Dr. Selma Eikelenboom.

World famous Dr. Henry Lee has worked on dozens of high profile cases like OJ Simpson and Jean Benet Ramsey. His specialty, finding the tiniest of clues. “Yes well look at evidence first. The evidence we have to examine thoroughly,” said Dr. Lee on his way into the sheriffs office this morning.

Criminalist and hair banding expert Nicholas Petraco and forensic entomologist Dr. Timothy Huntington arrived after lunch. According to Dr. Huntington’s website he is one of only 15 experts in the world certified in the use of insects as evidence in legal investigations.

Anthony’s murder trial is set to begin on May 9, 2011. She remains jailed on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of her daughter Caylee who was last seen in June of 2008, but she was not reported missing until a month later. Her remains were found in woods near the family’s home on December 11, 2008. Investigators say the toddler’s body was found with duct tape over her mouth.

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Touch DNA

Lawless clothing undergoes new DNA test: With a comment by Richard Eikelenboom

Posted By IFS

The Michelle Lawless case is a very difficult case top solve because it is a long time ago that it happened and there was no DNA awareness at the time. This causes DNA contamination of the evidence. However it is pretty sure that the perpetrator(s) had forceful physical contact with the victim. This means that they left DNA on the victim and probably more than the average person just touching the evidence. IFS performed investigations on touch DNA which could have been left by a perpetrator(s). Very complex DNA mixture were obtained but enough information was obtained for comparison with persons of interest. To be continued….

Below is an article written by Bridget DiCosmo.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

By Bridget DiCosmo ~ Southeast Missourian

Evidence in the 1992 homicide of Angela Mischelle Lawless is currently in Holland awaiting a relatively new form of forensic analysis known as touch DNA testing, said Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter.

Walter said the testing, the same type experts say cleared JonBenet Ramsey’s family of involvement in her murder, will be used on the clothing worn by Lawless the night of her murder.

The testing works by developing a genetic profile based on skin cells lifted from the surface of an object that someone has handled, even if no substantial genetic material, such as semen or blood, is left behind.

Lawless, a 19-year-old Southeast Missouri State University student, was discovered shot to death in her car during the early morning hours of Nov. 8, 1992.

She had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and three gunshot wounds to the head, back and face with a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun.

Walter, a responding officer to the homicide, reopened the case in 2006, despite the 1994 conviction of Joshua C. Kezer for the crime.

Kezer was exonerated in February after a Cole County judge granted a motion acknowledging his wrongful conviction in the case.

In January 2008, touch DNA testing was instrumental in the exoneration of Timothy Masters, a Colorado man whose murder conviction was overturned after the new forensic evidence pointed to someone else in the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick.

Last month, Walter and Scott County Detective Branden Caid met with a multi-disciplinary panel of investigative experts in Colorado who worked on the Hettrick homicide case.

During the meeting, they used simulation techniques to narrow down the points at which Lawless’ killer or killer would have had to handle her body, thus coming into contact with her clothing, Walter said.

“Aside from wearing gloves, there’s no way someone didn’t transfer their DNA to her clothing,” Walter said.

Narrowing down the points of contact on the clothing will reduce the portions of material that need to be tested using the costly process, Walter said.

Walter said the evidence, consisting of a long-sleeved shirt, jeans and socks worn by Lawless, was sent to touch DNA experts Richard and Selma Eikelenboom of Holland instead of having it tested in state because they have the most experience using the technique.

“Why reinvent the wheel if we don’t have to?” he said.

Sending the evidence to Holland will also save time because the private lab will be able to get results within a few weeks, as opposed to waiting for potential backlogs in local labs, Walter said.

“A lot of time’s been wasted,” he said.

The lab in Holland marks the fifth forensics lab to perform testing on evidence in the case, but the first to try to lift a genetic profile from Lawless’ clothing.

A bank bag recovered from another unsolved Scott County case, the 1979 disappearance of Cheryl Ann Scherer from a Scott City service station, will also be sent to the Holland lab for touch testing, Caid said.

Although a handful of DNA samples taken from suspects and people who may have come into contact with Lawless will be sent along to Holland for comparison purposes, it’s possible none will match any genetic profile that may be gleaned from the clothing, Caid said.

In that case, the Missouri State Highway Patrol would need to enter that profile into CODIS, the national DNA database, in the hopes of getting a hit, Walter said.

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DNA pros cheer convict’s release

Touch DNA

DNA pros cheer convict’s release

Posted By IFS

Rockey Mountain News: DNA pros cheer convict’s release, Richard and Selma Eikelenboom

Dutch couple travel to see court free Tim Masters
By Kevin Vaughan, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)
Published January 22, 2008 at 12:30 a.m.

Investigator Linda Wheeler-Holloway and DNA experts Richard and Selma Eikelenboom look at a picture of Tim Masters on the Internet on Monday.

Investigator Linda Wheeler-Holloway and DNA experts Richard and Selma Eikelenboom look at a picture of Tim Masters on the Internet on Monday.
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Richard and Selma Eikelenboom always planned to travel to Colorado to watch Tim Masters be freed – they just never imagined it would happen this quickly.

The couple, who operate a DNA laboratory in Holland, made the first discovery of genetic material on the clothes of murder victim Peggy Hettrick that pointed the finger away from Masters, who is serving a life sentence for her killing.

So when they learned Friday that he was expected to walk out of court a free man today, they booked a flight to the United States.

“This is a very special moment, of course,” Richard Eikel enboom said Monday. “It is not that often that they release someone who was convicted for life.”

In recent years, a team of people who believed that Masters was innocent worked to win him a new trial. In 2005, the Eikelenbooms agreed to use techniques they developed in an effort to collect DNA from Hettrick’s clothing.

They first determined that none of Masters’ DNA was on her clothes. Then, more recently, they found that skin-cell DNA on the cuffs of Hettrick’s blouse matched the genetic fingerprint of a former boyfriend.

Investigators believe she was dragged by the wrists into the field where her body was found.

On Monday, the Eikelenbooms were shopping and preparing for the court hearing this morning at which Judge Joseph Weatherby is expected to order that Masters be released.

“I can imagine it was difficult for Tim Masters to believe he was going to be set free,” Richard Eikelenboom said. “But it was also difficult for us. We couldn’t believe it could go so fast after all the work to get him a new trial.”

The Eikelenbooms agreed to take on the case after a visit from former Fort Collins police detective Linda Wheeler-Holloway, who believes that Masters is innocent.

After hearing that presentation, Richard Eikelenboom said that he and his wife thought “there’s a good probability that this guy is innocent.”

They had been working in the DNA field for two decades and had developed new techniques for collecting samples from clothing. Collection is paramount.

“If you don’t find it, you never come to the process of DNA profiling,” Richard Eikelenboom said.

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