Forensic Studies 003: The Grim Sleeper

on May 17, 2011 in Forensic Studies, Forensics, Serial Killers by

The Familial, a DNA database of genetic profiles of felons, was used for the first time to solve a homicide case in the United States. This was the case of the Grime Sleeper.

California is one of only three states that permit this testing technique of DNA (Dolan, M. 2011). The California state DNA lab ran a familial DNA search for the Grime Sleeper in 2008 that was unsuccessful. In 2010, there was the second run through the system, and a direct relative of the suspect turned up. The relative was Lonnie Franklin Jr.’s son, Christopher.

Christopher committed a crime which resulted in his arrest. He was convicted and incarcerated in 2009 for his crime, and as a result of this conviction, had to submit his DNA sample for the state of California DNA database. From this sample, Christopher’s DNA was linked to other crimes. Christopher was not old enough to fit the profile, so an investigation of the members of his family was investigated, which lead to Lonnie D. Franklin Jr.

Franklin was then placed under surveillance. Evidence was retrieved from a plate and napkin he had thrown away after eating pizza, which provided the DNA match and led to his arrest (DNA Forensics, 2010). The Los Angeles Police Department then confirmed the match by taking the suspect’s personal DNA. On July 7th, 2010, Franklin, aka the Grime Sleeper, was arrested for the murder of at least ten residents in South Los Angeles over the past 25 years. The police theory was that Franklin targeted women on the margins of society, many of which were drug addicts and occasional prostitutes known to be in Franklin’s South L.A. neighborhood. Franklin killed the women by shooting them and leaving them in alleyways and dumpsters.

Steinhauer (2010) repots that those who oppose the technique argue that there are inherent privacy concerns, and that it serves, in essence, as a form of racial profiling because a higher proportion of inmates are members of minorities. Each month the lab processes up to 25,000 and 30,000 offender/arrestee samples. These are uploaded weekly to try to match them against forensic evidence DNA profiles from crime scenes submitted by local California crime laboratories and the rest of the nation.

Dolan (2011) reports, civil libertarians want familial searching reserved for the most serious crimes because it puts an offender’s entire family under scrutiny. Familial searching, which is done in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, has a 10% to 14% success rate, according to countries that use the technique. California’s rate so far is about 11%.

The state’s forensics laboratory has the fourth largest DNA database in the world with more than 1.5 million convicted offender and arrestee DNA profiles and a hit rate of more than 300 per month (Steinhauer, J. 2010). There are 23 states that collect DNA at the time of an individual being arrested (Alaska Citizens for Justice, n.d.) in hopes that DNA from other crime scenes can be matched to those individuals.

Rubin (2011) reports, the investigation of Franklin residence turned up a refrigerator in the garage which contained photos and identification cards of eight women including one of the ten women he was accused of killing. There were other photos of women found in his residence. The photos in the garage were deemed special due to the fact that they were separate from the residence photos, which he shared with his wife.

The photos found in the garage were sent out to the media in hopes that someone will recognize these women so authorities will know in fact they are dead or alive (Rubin, J. 2011). In fear, these women may be potential victims.

Lonnie D. Franklin Jr., 57, was charged with ten counts of murder and one of attempted murder (Steinhauer, J. 2010). Franklin has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody awaiting trial.

Conclusion:
The worry of individuals who have family members that may have been involved in a crime is understandable. Being that the prison system is populated with more African Americans seems to make this technology geared toward racial profiling, but it is not. Familial DNA searches are done under rigorous guidelines. The crimes that are sought to be solved are the rape, murder, and other violent crimes. Most of society would want these types of crimes to be solved due to the dangerous individual or individuals off the street.

By following rigorous protocols, scientists from the Department of Justice Bureau of Forensic Services were able to identify an offender in its DNA Data Bank. The individual did not match the crime scene DNA profile, but shared sufficient genetic characteristics that ranked him high on a list of potential first-order male relatives, such as a father/son relationship or a brother/brother relationship.

It is now proven how important this forensic technology is. Hopefully more funding would become available to further develop and update the system. Some improvements may be the way the DNA is actually collected; at the time of the collection, the results could be immediately processed; or steps of the process can be eliminated such as with the results, they could be ran through the system at the time of the arrival.

References:
DNA Forensics. 2010. California Familial Search Leads to Arrest of Serial Killer. Retrieved on May 12, 2011.
Alaska Citizens for Justice, n.d. About DNA. Retrieved on May 12, 2011.
Rubin, J., 2011 Los Angeles Times April 6. Grim Sleeper Case Refrigerator Could Hold Clues to More Victims Retrieved on May 12, 2011.
Dolan, M. 2011. Los Angeles Times May 9. State to double crime searches using family DNA Retrieved on May 12, 2011.
Steinhauer, J. 2010. ‘Grime Sleeper’ Arrest Fans Debate on DNA Use. Retrieved on May 12, 2011.

Editors Note: Lonnie Franklin Jr. is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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