This combination of images from 1999, a flyer released by the Ozark (Ala.) The police Department, shows J. B. Beasley, left, and Tracie Hawlett, both of whom were murdered in July 1999. Alabama authorities say a DNA match was found through a genealogy website, has led to an arrest in the murder of the two teenage girls almost 20 years ago. Coley McCraney, of Dothan, was arrested Saturday, March 16, 2019, on rape and capital murder charges in the death of Hawlett and Beasley, according to the Dale County jail records. (Ozark Police via AP)
OZARK, Ala. – The type of DNA research that led to the arrest of an Alabama truck driver and part-time pastor in two slaughter almost 20 years, has become the latest trend in the service of the police in many parts of the country, despite the concerns about privacy and fairness.
A national association for criminal defense attorneys, says genetic genealogy to solve the crime can lead to errors.
But a relative of one of the victims in the 1999 murders hopes that the authorities got the right person when they arrested Coley McCraney, 45, Of Dothan on murder charges in the death of Tracie Hawlett and J. B. Beasley, both 17.
“We have been through pure hell the last 20 years,” said Mike Roberts, Hawlett’s stepfather. “DNA don’t lie.”
Law enforcement interest in the use of genetic genealogy to crack cold cases decreased after the highly familiar with the arrest of a suspect in the so-called Golden State serial killings in California last year.
A suspect in those cases was found by performing of crime-scene DNA through a database, said CeCe Moore, chief of the genetic genealogist by Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs. The same company has the research that led to McCraney’s arrest in Alabama after the police heard of the technique.
After genealogical matching identified McCraney as a potential suspect, according to police, the man voluntarily provided a DNA sample that tied him to the evidence left at the crime scene.
While the researchers are looking for new leads in cold cases are intrigued, others see red flags.
“There are huge privacy concerns,” said Jennifer Friedman, a public prosecutor in Los Angeles who has been involved in cases involving DNA since the late 1980’s.
She said: there are several problems with the tying of people to crimes with the help of family genetic information, including the fact that most people probably don’t want that a relative arrested on the basis of their DNA sample.
Amy McGuire, a professor of biomedical ethics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told The Associated Press last fall that the police are looking for using DNA and genealogy web sites are sometimes aimed at the wrong person.
And the directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers adopted a resolution in 2013 against the use of familial DNA searches during criminal investigations. The board cited several concerns, including the possibility of incorrect matches caused by insufficient procedures.
To make combinations, Moore said her company only makes use of a database that people have uploaded of their information voluntarily after being told that the subject to use in an investigation.
She said only about a million people — out of an estimated 23 million people have consumer DNA ancestry test in GEDMatch, the database that is used in the Alabama study. GEDMatch is a public genetic database repository that people have uploaded profiles of home origin kits.
Moore said the same technique was once used to help adopted people search for birth families.
“Many of us who work with adoptees and others of unknown origin knew that the methodologies that we had made for that were applicable for the enforcement of the law,” she said. The California case helped “open door” to law enforcement, ” she said.
McCraney the case has just begun, and it is unclear whether the defense can try to raise genealogical genetic testing as a problem in the court.
But on the street where McCraney grew up in the south of Alabama, neighbors, including 67-year-old Mattie Beaty expressed disbelief at his arrest.
“I tell you, that’s a good child. A lot of things are not right. I know that they are holding back a lot … but 20 years, and they are just now coming up with his DNA,” Beaty said.
Hawlett and Beasley disappeared after heading to a party on July 31, 1999. Their bodies were found the next day in the trunk of Beasley’s black Mazda along a road in Ozark, a town of 19,000 people about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southeast of Montgomery. Each was shot in the head.
The case was unsolved for almost two decades, to the arrest in the Golden State murders. Ozark police chief Marlos Walker said: “let’s try that” after hearing about the West Coast event.
McCraney was arrested Friday after the Alabama crime scene sample has been analysed and uploaded to GEDMatch.
Parabon the work of police is enabled to charge McCraney with multiple counts of capital murder, including one accusing him of the murder, Beasley during a sexual assault. It is unclear what other evidence, if applicable, the police may have against McCraney.
Moore said that the company is now fielding calls for help in decades-old cases, as interest grows in this technique. Since May, the company has helped provide law enforcement with credentials in 43 cases, ” she said.
She said genetic genealogy can help to provide an answer for families who have seen their loved ones’ murders go unsolved for years.
“The fact that we finally can offer that is just very important,” Moore said.
Associated Press writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.