Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


DNA Dragnets Not Needed

In January, I blogged about the city of Truro, Mass, trying to get DNA samples from all 790 residents. (“DNA Dragnets” and “DNA Dragnets and Criminal Signaling.”) The New York Times reports that they’ve arrested someone:

Mr. McCowen was first considered a possible suspect in April 2002, three months after the murder, Mr. O’Keefe said, and at that time he was asked if he would be willing to give a DNA sample. He said he would, Mr. O’Keefe said.

But for reasons that Mr. O’Keefe would not make clear at today’s news conference, it took authorities nearly two years to collect a DNA sample from Mr. McCowen even though they knew he had a lengthy criminal history in Florida involving, according to Florida records, burglary, trafficking in stolen property, grand theft and motor vehicle theft.

Then, from the time the DNA sample was taken in March 2004, it took more than a year for the state crime lab to analyze the DNA results.

Mr. O’Keefe said that was because of a lack of resources and a long backlog at the crime lab.

He said that it wasn’t until last week, on April 7, that the crime lab analysis was completed and it turned out that Mr. McCowen’s sample matched DNA found at the crime scene.

Its a good thing they thoroughly followed up on all the leads before pressuring everyone in town to submit to a DNA test.

[Update: Fixed NYT link so it won’t go bad, using the New York Times link generator.]

[Update2: The New York Times has another story, including Mr. O’Keefe taking the 5th over why it took so long: “I’m not going to go there,” Mr. O’Keefe said, declining to answer the question. “I’m just not going to go there.” Richard Smith points out a Boston Globe story, with finger-pointing over who sent the request when, and what the backlog might be at the state’s lab:

The two officials also said that, in some cases, DNA samples can be processed in as little as a week if a district attorney makes an emergency request. No such request was attached to McCowen’s sample, one of the officials said.

Regardless of the time it took to process McCowen’s DNA sample, however, O’Keefe acknowledged that the lengthier delay came between the time McCowen first agreed to give the sample and when police finally obtained it.