How cutting-edge DNA technology helped break open 39-year-old cold case

Published: Dec. 20, 2018 at 6:41 PM CST
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Law enforcement's new partnership with genealogy has created strides in how years-old cold cases are investigated and solved.

An arrest has been made for the murder of Michelle Martinko. The suspect, Jerry Lynn Burns, identified after four decades. Investigators used the same DNA technology that led to an arrest in the golden state killer case earlier this year.

DNA discovered by investigators in the 1979 killing of Martinko went unmatched for nearly ten years. That is until Parabon Nanolabs used that sample to create D3 illustrations of the suspected killer's face.

The image will never 100 percent match the person but it does give an illustration of the traits that the person likely possesses, such as skin color, eye color, and hair color.

The process is called phenotyping. Officials at Parabon say this is a way to rule suspects out. If investigators have no idea who was at the crime but do have suspects, they can eliminate some of those based on who does not match the phenotypic traits in the report.

"What we'll find is that for very similar phenotypes, such as green and blue eyes, our confidence in distinguishing between those is low. It’s hard to tell, even just looking at someone,” says Ellen McRae from Parabon. “But what you can say with very high confidence is that the person does not have dark eyes, so you can exclude that whole segment of the population."

The lab said it also helped narrow down the pool of suspects by uploading his DNA data to a public genealogy website called GEDmatch.

They then build family trees to find relatives of suspects and zero in on potential suspects. A break in Martinko's case came in no time.

Parabon began pooling genetic data and genealogy services in May of this year.

Brand new technology-- already creating significant results.

Parabon's DNA technology has helped locate suspects in 28 cold cases just in one year. All together bringing 402 years of investigations with no leads to see new hope.

Parabon says they're now working with over 215 law enforcement agencies across the world to bring new leads to cases once declared cold.

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