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)