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May 2015 Newsletter

Cybergenetics May 2015 Newsletter

From Bakersfield to Baltimore: TrueAllele helps convict serial rapists

CBS "48 Hours": Exculpatory DNA may have sent an innocent man to prison

TrueAllele education and the New York State Police

FBI opens software procurement to fair and open competition

MAAFS presentation "Rapid DNA Response: On the Wings of TrueAllele"

Wakefield sentenced to life in prison for murder in upstate New York

From Bakersfield to Baltimore: TrueAllele helps convict serial rapists

In California, Bakersfield's "East Side Rapist" was sentenced on May 19 to life in prison without parole, plus 423 years.  Kern County prosecutor Cynthia Zimmer said she was "very relieved that Billy Ray Johnson, who is a sadistic monster, will spend every day of the rest of his life in state prison, where he belongs for committing these heinous crimes against very innocent victims."

 

Biological evidence collected at multiple crime scenes found DNA, but human review could not interpret the mixtures.  Cybergenetics TrueAllele technology separated the mixtures to produce match statistics for eight items, placing the serial rapist and his victims at three scenes.  The Kern County crime laboratory independently replicated these results on their own TrueAllele system.  Cybergenetics' Dr. Mark Perlin and the crime lab's Garett Sugimoto both testified about TrueAllele results at the trial, which lasted three months. 

 

In Maryland, a Baltimore jury convicted a man on May 8 who had been acquitted in four previous sexual assault trials.  In these trials, Nelson Clifford claimed the encounters were consensual.  Clifford was found guilty of third-degree sex offenses; a prior conviction may land him in prison for life.  Cybergenetics used TrueAllele to separate the DNA mixtures, and Dr. Mark Perlin testified about the match statistics that placed Clifford and his victims on the ligature.  

CBS "48 Hours": Exculpatory DNA may have sent an innocent man to prison

CBS presented the 1979 Janet Walsh cold case homicide on "48 Hours" on May 16.  Gregory Scott Hopkins, who had a previous sexual relationship with Walsh, was convicted in 2013.  The program said the prosecutor's outside forensic pathologist claimed to know exactly how and when the DNA was deposited.  Cybergenetics' Dr. Mark Perlin explained the proximity "coincidence" as possible transfer between wet cotton fabrics, subjected to pressure for a long time.  But the celebrity pathologist testified he couldn't "envision" DNA transfer. 

 

As "48 Hours" reported, the prosecutor said, "We always go back to location, location, location.  Because the location of the DNA is what tells us when it was put there."  But DNA expert Perlin noted, "In this case, the prosecution said there was only one possibility, and that's clearly false.  And in science, if you have two possibilities that can equally explain the data, it's a wash."  Nor could the prosecutor explain Hopkins' invisible semen, evidence that these old DNA stains were deposited long before the murder.  

TrueAllele education and the New York State Police

User training is essential for reliably producing accurate match statistics that hold up in court.  Some forensic DNA developers give away free software without user support.  But software alone does not ensure criminal justice and conviction integrity.  In their smooth transition to probabilistic genotyping, TrueAllele laboratories want comprehensive user training, which Cybergenetics has delivered to hundreds of students. 

 

TrueAllele "Solving Cases" is a self-paced computer laboratory course.  Students run TrueAllele on a dozen DNA mixture lessons, learning basic and advanced problem solving.  After producing TrueAllele genotype and match results, they write up their findings and answer study questions.  As in any science laboratory class, lab output is different for each student, so answers are individualized to their unique data.  In a college-like culture of collaboration, science students help one another learn. 

 

The NYSP are investigating alleged cheating on TrueAllele examinations.  NYSP Laboratory Director Ray Wickenheiser said at a NYS Forensic Science Commission meeting on April 15, "There is absolutely no issue with any of the validations we have done; absolutely no issue with the technology itself.  This is strictly an ethics and integrity matter with respect to exam information which will be dealt with in the executive session.  There is nothing we have uncovered that goes to the validity in any way, shape or form of the technology of probabilistic genotyping, nor TrueAllele itself. These are not even competency tests, these are tests that are pre-requisites as people move through their training." 

 

The Albany Times Union newspaper published an update on May 18 on the "alleged cheating scandal."  Dr. Mark Perlin of Cybergenetics said it is extremely unlikely 15 State Police scientists would have deliberately cheated.  He also said that in many crime labs, scientists learning to use TrueAllele have been encouraged to collaborate.  "These exams are not exams for proficiency, they're learning exercises," Perlin said.  "If their administration wants them to work together ... that's fine.  If a lab would prefer that it were independent, that's fine.  We're ecumenical about that.  Our concern is that the students learn and when they're all done that they know how to operate the system." 

FBI opens software procurement to fair and open competition

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has withdrawn a sole source award for probabilistic genotyping software, and will instead conduct the acquisition using competitive FAR procedures.  Cybergenetics greatly appreciates the bipartisan efforts of Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, and Congressmen Mike Doyle and Tim Murphy, in achieving this outcome.  Cybergenetics had sent a letter to the FBI, explaining the capabilities of TrueAllele Casework for accurately resolving DNA mixtures.  Senator Toomey met with Drs. Mark Perlin and Ria David of Cybergenetics in Pittsburgh on May 15, and personally gave them the good news about the FBI's fair and open competition.  

MAAFS presentation "Rapid DNA Response: On the Wings of TrueAllele"

TrueAllele is fast, taking minutes to resolve simple DNA mixtures.  With more sampling time, TrueAllele can accurately separate highly complex mixtures, data entirely beyond the capabilities of other methods.  Parallel processing lets TrueAllele work on dozens of problems simultaneously, so that important cases can be analyzed in real time.  

 

Cybergenetics Martin Bowkley gave a talk on May 20 at the Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists Annual Conference in Maryland.  He presented a Baltimore homicide case with DNA mixtures from clothing containing three or four related people.  Over several days, Cybergenetics separated the mixture data, calculated match statistics, issued a report, prepared the prosecutor, and appeared at a hearing; the defendant ultimately pleaded guilty.  

Wakefield sentenced to life in prison for murder in upstate New York

A Schenectady man was sentenced to life in prison without parole on May 27.  John Wakefield had been convicted of strangling Brett Wentworth in his home with a guitar amplifier cord.  DNA mixtures on the cord, as well as the victim's clothing and skin, tied Wakefield to the murder.  The state crime lab could not resolve the mixtures, so the prosecutor asked Cybergenetics to solve the problem.  TrueAllele separated the DNA mixture data into the genotypes of Wentworth and Wakefield.  Following a successful Frye hearing in October, TrueAllele was admitted into evidence and Cybergenetics' Dr. Mark Perlin testified in March about the match results. 

 

Cybergenetics has assisted many District Attorney offices in upstate New York, working on over fifteen cases with DNA mixtures.  These violent crimes are typically murder or rape, including campus, serial and daughter rape.  When a crime lab declares a mixture inconclusive, that can be the starting point for more informative data analysis.  TrueAllele often brings DNA back into evidence, facilitating a guilty plea.  Dr. Perlin has testified about TrueAllele DNA match results in Elmira, Rochester, Schenectady and Syracuse.  

Announcements

TrueAllele Cloud

Cybergenetics has now made TrueAllele available for use on the Cloud.  This advance allows forensic scientists, and anyone else with an Internet connection, to easily access TrueAllele from anywhere, at any time.  Harness TrueAllele power on the Cloud.  Contact Cybergenetics for a free introductory ticket, and start solving DNA mixtures in minutes. 

TrueAllele User Webinar

There will be a Cybergenetics webinar for TrueAllele users in June.  Please contact us if you would like to share a case, study or some other interesting development.  

TrueAllele Journal Club

The next TrueAllele journal club meeting will be held in July, continuing with the 2011 New York State validation paper.  Please contact Cybergenetics for your section assignment.  

NIST Conference 

Cybergenetics Dr. Mark Perlin will be speaking on July 22 at NIST's International Symposium on Forensic Science Error Management - Detection, Measurement and Mitigation in Washington, DC.  His topic is"Objective DNA mixture information in the courtroom: relevance, reliability and acceptance." 

Second Annual TrueAllele User Meeting

Cybergenetics is planning the next TrueAllele user meeting for this Fall.  Please contact us if you would like to contribute to the program.