New DNA technology could help solve old criminal cases in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy announced a $470,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The grant will fund a three-year program aimed at solving cold cases, some of which stretch as far back as 1979.
Braveboy said the grant will cover the cost of using forensic genetic genealogy — something that can cost as much as $2,000 a sample to solve up to 480 cold cases. Braveboy said 120 of those are murder cases, and 360 are sexual assaults.
“This technology has helped us already,” she said. “Recently, my office indicted a three-and-a-half-year-old murder case that occurred in Hyattsville using this type of testing.”
Braveboy said the testing doesn’t just track down potential criminal suspects; it can also identify victims.
She said that in one murder case, dating back to 2007, “Investigators made arrests, and we were able to get convictions, but the identity of the victim remains unknown.”
In a case like that, Braveboy said, the testing could help put a name to that victim.
Determining which of the 480 cases could be part of the grant program will depend on a number of factors. Assistant State’s Attorney Bob Dean said a number of questions have to be answered.
“Has the evidence been preserved and inventoried? Has it been kept in good condition? Are the witnesses still around — are they available? Are they alive?” Dean said.
All of those questions are taken into consideration, according to Dean.
Officials said the grant will allow them to choose 15-20 cases a year for investigation over the next three years.
Deputy State’s Attorney Jonathan Church was asked how the county would measure the success of the program. “If we can bring justice or peace to one family, we would have been successful. But we’re obviously shooting for more than that,” he said.
Church said the grant “takes us from stalled, to moving forward” in seeking closure to the hundreds of cases identified by the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office.