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Familial DNA puts elusive killers behind bars. But only 12 states use it.



In the Scottsdale case, the investigation was much more precisely targeted. State crime lab technicians reported that they had only one familial DNA “hit,” and it pointed to Mark Mitcham, 54, who had been convicted in the early 1990s of child molestation and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Scottsdale detectives were told Mitcham was almost certainly a close relative of the person who had been inside Feldman’s home.

Armed with that information, Scottsdale detectives quickly turned to Mitcham’s closest relatives. His father was dead, and two brothers did not have criminal records.

But his youngest brother, Ian, had a handful of misdemeanor arrests, including a DUI in 2015. Blood had been drawn in that case, so Scottsdale police used it to obtain a DNA sample. They compared it to the DNA from Feldman’s home, and the two samples matched perfectly.

I hope it provides some relief to other families, like it has done to us.

I hope it provides some relief to other families, like it has done to us.

Detectives said they could find no evidence of a prior relationship between Mitcham and Feldman. But with the DNA confirmation in hand, they went to the Phoenix delicatessen where Mitcham, 42, worked and arrested him for murder.

He told investigators he didn’t know Feldman and had never been inside her home, according to court records cited by the He entered a “not guilty” plea Thursday and is being held at the Maricopa County jail.

“As time went by, it had been harder and harder to keep our hopes up,” said Kelly Weinblatt, Feldman’s sister, who lives in Minnesota, where they were raised. “People ask me now, ‘Aren’t you so happy?’ I don’t think ‘happy’ is the right word. We are glad a match happened and that there is going to be justice.”

Harley and Elayne Feldman, Allison’s parents, make the trek from Minnesota to Scottsdale a few times a year, staying in the house where their daughter died. They visited again this week, planting a bougainvillea in bloom. Allison loved flowers.

They don’t venture into her room and don’t keep pictures of her on display. Elayne breaks down any time she sees a photo. Making the pilgrimages might surprise some people, but the Feldmans say it feels right to them. It’s a way to stay close to their daughter, Elayne explains.

‘We might solve twice as many cases’

At the news conference following the arrest, Scottsdale police thanked the public and the Feldman family for their cooperation, and the Arizona state crime lab, attorney general and governor for clearing the way for familial DNA searching.

Unmentioned was another figure who had been central to advancing the testing in Arizona and many other states: Rockne Harmon, known as Rock, is a former senior deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California, and a longtime proselytizer for DNA evidence.

Harmon presented the DNA evidence in O.J. Simpson’s 1995 murder trial. Since his retirement in 2007, he has been buttonholing police, prosecutors, the press and state officials about the potential power of familial matching.

Image: Familial DNA
“This case is going to be monumental for law enforcement,” says Scottsdale Police Department Sergeant Hugh Lockerby, referring to the Allison Feldman case, “Hopefully more states will jump on board.”Jim Seida / NBC News

If he visits a city and reads about a long-unsolved murder or series of rapes, Harmon emails local reporters to ask if they know about familial testing. He might call the police department to see if they have considered it. The focus of his efforts in Arizona quickly centered on the Feldman case, with its supply of DNA that had not produced a match.

“He really gave us the hope and confidence we could work through this thing,” said Lockerby, the lead detective in the Feldman case.

Arizona joined 11 other states — California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — that have solved cold cases using familial DNA matching. Illinois and Louisiana are currently pondering whether to use the technique. In many of the states, Harmon pushed for familial search, or for its expanded use. “He has been one of the pioneers in this field,” said Frederick Bieber, a Harvard professor of pathology and an expert in DNA analysis.

Harmon said he approached the issue as a veteran prosecutor who saw a tactic that worked and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t spreading more rapidly, given how many families are waiting for answers. If familial testing were in wider use, he said, “we might solve twice as many cases as we do now.”

With this technology, we can bring years of frustration to an end.

With this technology, we can bring years of frustration to an end.

States have typically used existing laws to approve familial search, with state police, officials and prosecutors drawing up guidelines that assure it will be used infrequently, usually only in violent crimes and when all other investigative approaches have failed.

A national norm has been elusive, in part because the FBI has not taken a strong stance, advocates say. The agency’s website says only that the FBI is “currently evaluating the possibility of adding a familial search module” to the national computer system, CODIS, that allows local, state and federal labs to exchange and compare DNA profiles. An FBI spokesman declined to discuss the timing of a decision on familial search.

The technique made its biggest splash in 2010, when Los Angeles police announced they had arrested Lonnie David Franklin Jr., 57, in a series of murders in south L.A. that dated to the 1980s. The LAPD had collected saliva at numerous crime scenes, but were unable to match the DNA in any crime database — until they expanded the search to anyone who might be related to the suspect.

A hit came back for Christopher Franklin, Lonny’s son, whose DNA was on file because of a felony weapons charge. Detectives surreptitiously obtained DNA from Lonnie Franklin by picking up pizza crusts and utensils that he had used at a restaurant.

That DNA matched perfectly with the crime-scene DNA and — after years of delays and a long trial — a jury convicted the elder Franklin in 2016 of killing nine women and a teenage girl. The so-called Grim Sleeper case was viewed as a watershed in the use of familial DNA testing.

Harmon and another retired prosecutor, Mitch Morrissey, who had been Denver’s district attorney, have been pressing for expanding use of the procedure in sex assault cases. They believe evidence waiting in thousands of “rape kits” might provide innumerable leads.

“It’s like we have built this Porsche technology, but we use it so sparingly, it’s like we are driving a VW beatle,” said Morrissey, who left office in 2017 and is now chief financial officer of United Data Connect, a company that sells software that performs the familial DNA screening.

The privacy debate

But the use of familial DNA is not without its opponents. Some civil liberties advocates are uneasy at the prospect of expanding DNA database searches. Maryland and the District of Columbia banned the practice of familial searching, pointing to concerns that such “genetic surveillance” would largely target people of color, who are disproportionately represented in DNA databases.

The opportunity for people being falsely investigated and harassed by the police is very large.

The opportunity for people being falsely investigated and harassed by the police is very large.

Opponents cite the 2015 case of New Orleans filmmaker Michael Usry Jr. as a cautionary tale. Examining DNA in the unsolved murder of a teenager in Idaho Falls, Idaho, investigators got a near match with Usry’s father, Michael Usry Sr., then obtained a court’s permission to take a DNA sample from the younger Usry. He said he went through a month of deep anxiety before the test results came back, clearing him of involvement in the rape and murder of 18-year-old Kelly Dodge.

Idaho Falls police said they later conducted more detailed DNA analysis, which effectively cleared not only Usry, but his family.

Proponents of expanded searches of government databases for familial data say privately they are concerned that the even broader search employed in the Golden State Killer case could stir up more opposition to DNA searches. Said one lobbyist who has been working for expanded familial DNA investigations, “Privacy groups are going to freak out.”

Another state in the forefront of the debate is New York, which cleared the way for familial DNA testing in 2017, largely at the urging of a family whose daughter was murdered the year before while she was out running in the New York City neighborhood of Howard Beach, Queens. Legal Aid Society attorneys filed a lawsuit in February, saying that such an important decision should have been left to state legislators, rather than approved by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

“The opportunity for people being falsely investigated and harassed by the police is very large,” said Julie Fry, one of the attorneys challenging the policy in New York.

Police managed to arrest a suspect in the Howard Beach jogger case without DNA evidence. But the father of Karina Vetrano, the 30-year-old who was beaten and strangled to death, said he will remain a crusader for familial testing, convinced it will help some other family know who harmed a loved one.

“There is no gain for me in it, other than seeing other families get justice,” Vetrano said in an interview.

The unwelcome veil of tragedy has thrown Vetrano together with other families. He has talked to Harley Feldman, Allison’s father, a few times.

Image: Familial DNA
Harley and Elayne Feldman spend time in the home where their daughter, Allison, was murdered in 2015.Jim Seida / NBC News

“It’s mostly about how much me miss our daughters,” said Feldman, 70, co-founder of a Minneapolis technology firm. But there is also talk about familial DNA.

Feldman understands the privacy concerns, but said DNA should be considered just another piece of evidence, one that police must buttress with other information. He plans to meet with officials in states that aren’t fully using the DNA technology, to try to convince them.


“It’s for Allison,” Feldman said. “I hope it provides some relief to other families, like it has done to us.”

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Uganda presidential election: Incumbent Yoweri Museveni declared winner | World News



Yoweri Museveni has been declared the winner of the Uganda presidential election with 58.64% of the total votes, according to the country’s electoral commission.

The incumbent will now serve a sixth term as president of the east African nation following some of the worst pre-election violence since the 76-year-old took office in 1986.

His man opposition, singer Bobi Wine, has alleged vote rigging throughout the process and had strong support in urban centres where frustration with unemployment and corruption remains high. He won 3.48 million votes, or 34.8% of the total, according to the commission.

Bobi Wine's trademark red beret has become a symbol of opposition to longtime President Yoweri Museveni.
Opposition candidate Bobi Wine was assaulted and arrested several times during the election campaign

Mr Wine and other opposition candidates were often harassed, and more than 50 people were killed when security forces halted riots in November after he was arrested.

Although Mr Museveni holds on to power, at least 15 of his cabinet ministers including the vice president were voted out, with many losing to candidate’s from Mr Wine’s party, according to local media.

Mr Wine, real name Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, claimed victory on Friday and said he had video evidence of vote-rigging and insisting “every legal option is on the table” to challenge the election results.

He was beaten up and arrested several times during the election campaign but was never convicted of any charge. He later wore a flak jacket and said he feared for his life.

On Saturday, Mr Wine said his home in the capital Kampala had been surrounded by soldiers and the military was now allowing him to leave.

The army’s deputy spokesman, Deo Akiiki, told Reuters security officers were assessing threats to Mr Wine if left his home.

Monitoring of the elections has been hit by the arrest of independent observers and the denial of accreditation for members of the UN observer mission.

Tibor Nagy, the top US diplomat for Africa, tweeted on Saturday that “Uganda’s electoral process has been fundamentally flawed”, adding that the “US response hinges on what the Ugandan government does now”.

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COVID-19: India begins vaccine roll-out and aims to administer 300 million jabs by August | World News



India has began its ambitious project of vaccinating its 1.3 billion citizens – as it aims to administer 300 million jabs by August.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the voluntary vaccination programme at 3,006 locations across the country this morning.

About 300,000 health workers will be vaccinated today and the numbers will increase as more capacity is enhanced every week.

In the first phase, vaccines will be given to 30 million health and frontline workers for free.

In its second phase 270 million citizens over the age of 50 and those under 50 with other health problems will be vaccinated.

There is an air of relief and optimism at the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality hospital as the first beneficiaries line up for the jab.

There is also relief and celebration by health workers at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) Hospital in Delhi.

Biji Tony was the first nurse to be vaccinated at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital in Delhi
Biji Tony was the first nurse to be vaccinated at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital in Delhi

Staff nurse Biji Tony, the first to be vaccinated there, told Sky News: “I am so relieved. It has been a very difficult year, working day and night.

“We’ve stayed away from family and loved ones. We are human as well. Now all this ends. We are not afraid anymore after we get the second dose.”

Dr Suresh Kumar, the medical superintendent at the LNJP hospital, told Sky News: “Today is a historic day and like a festival, we are feeling as if we have won a super world cup.

“But it has come with a lot of struggle. We have lost doctors and staff to the virus. But now we are ready to win the COVID war.”

The two vaccines, the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s “Covishield” and Bharat Biotech’s “Covaxin”, were approved for emergency use by the Central Drugs and Standards Committee (CDSCO) on 3 January.

Millions of doses of Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India at its Pune plant, and Covaxin, produced by Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad, were transported under security to various cities across the nation.

The approval of the latter has raised concerns amongst scientists and epidemiologists as third phase trails are still ongoing and its efficacy has not yet been published.

Prime minister Modi said: “The DCGI (Drug Controller General of India) gave approval after they were satisfied with the data of the two vaccines. So stay away from rumours.”

Professor KS Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation Of India (PHFI) – a non- profit organisation and a watchdog of public health – said: “Ideally at the best of circumstances one should see the phase three trials completed and efficacy data fully evaluated and out in the public domain through scientific publications as well as other scrutiny.

“However in this pandemic situation it was felt that given the large number of persons in India that need to be immunised the potential escalation of the epidemic due to mutants. I think the policy makers have taken the decision, I too wish the trial could have been completed earlier.

“But as far as the safety is concerned it has been adequately proven for Covaxin. But anyone who has doubts of the vaccine need not take it even if it is offered, they can decline it.”

Healthcare workers are being prioritised in the vaccine roll-out
Healthcare workers are being prioritised in the vaccine roll-out

Indian Health Ministry spokesperson Rajesh Bhushan said: “There is no option for recipients to choose which vaccine they want to be inoculated with.”

Preparations for these dry runs took place in more than 700 districts across the country with mock transportation and dummy injections by more than 150,000 health staff.

The country has 29,000 cold-chain points, 240 walk-in coolers, 70 walk-in freezers, 45,000 ice-lined refrigerators, 41,000 deep freezers and 300 solar refrigerators for storage.

Immunising a country that is almost 2,000 miles north to south and the same east to west with over a billion people will be a herculean task.

Reaching remote and rural areas where most of India lives and where the infrastructure is wanting will be a challenge.

Added to this is a second jab required to complete the cycle.

And then there are the many summer months where temperatures soar to 40C (104 F) or more in most parts of the country.

It has been a tragic winter for the Sharma household

Deviram Sharma, 65, died within four days of being admitted to a hospital with the virus.

His son Avneesh is donning a PPE suit to perform the last rites at Nigambodh Ghat – the largest Hindu crematorium.

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Families have no time for mourning as farewells are hurried and from afar due to restrictions.

Traditional last rites are rushed under the overbearing shadow of the virus, the bereavement a mere formality.

Avneesh told Sky News: “It has jolted our family, it has shaken our roots, even I had to go on medication and am still feeling low myself.

“I hope and pray that this virus is removed through the use of vaccination and others don’t have to suffer what our family has gone through.”

With more than 10.5 million cases, India is the second worst affected country after the United States.

Almost 152,000 deaths have been reported so far and the need for a vaccine has never been as critical as now.

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COVID-19: Indonesia vaccine rollout bucks trend by targeting younger generations | UK News



With shaking hands, broadcast live to the nation, a doctor administered Indonesia’s first COVID-19 vaccination.

The recipient was President Joko Widodo, a man who hopes to get 181.5 million Indonesians vaccinated this year.

It’s a huge challenge, almost three times the population of the UK and so far one of the largest rollouts in the world.

But the nation’s vaccination drive, which started this week using CoronaVac, a jab from Chinese manufacturer Sinovac Biotech, bucks the current trend by injecting under-60s first.

You can find out more about Indonesia’s COVID-19 vaccine drive on the Sky News Daily Podcast

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Dr Siti Nadia Tarmizi, COVID-19 vaccination spokesperson for Indonesia’s Ministry of Health, told Sky News: “18 to 59 is the age group that gets most infected by COVID-19 and mostly without symptoms. We know between 18 and 59 is a more productive age group, so if we are targeting this age group first, we will protect them from COVID-19, which means they can, of course, go to work.

“And then secondly, by protecting this age group, we will cut the transmission.”

Indonesia has recorded more than 25,400 deaths and 880,000 infections making it Southeast Asia’s worst outbreak.

Testing levels are low, so experts warn the actual infection rate could be much higher.

Starting with frontline workers, under-60s will be inoculated first not only because the government hopes protecting workers will boost the economy, but it’s also waiting for more safety data about how CoronaVac impacts the elderly.

Medical official with vaccine dose
A medical official prepares to administer a vaccine dose

In Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, where people who refuse the jab will face fines, some are wary.

“If I had the option to refuse the vaccine, I would say no,” said Guntur Dwi Adiputra, “For sure I will be afraid to have it because I don’t know the side-effects.”

“I understand the perspective economic reasons, however, I feel that those people, productive people, they could wait because they’re not the ones risking their lives first, the elderly are the ones at stake right now,” added local resident Angel Utomo.

Officials on steps
Officials on steps

Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world and the pandemic has left many struggling financially.

Mohammed Santri’s catering business previously sold more than 200 meals a day, but since the coronavirus outbreak it’s dropped to just 10.

The family now runs it alone after all the paid staff had to be let go.

“I hope that the vaccination process will be implemented as soon as possible because when people are healthy and they can go back to work then I will receive orders again,” Mr Santri said.

CoronaVac is easier for many developing countries to store than some of the other vaccines as it can be kept in the fridge.

Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines which have been given the green light in the UK, the Sinovac-made jab uses inactivated coronavirus.

Monk speaks to official
A monk speaks to an official

Patients are injected with killed viral particles to expose the body’s immune system to the virus and teach it to make antibodies.

Interim data in Indonesia put the efficacy at 65.3% but extended results from Brazil found it to be just 50.4% effective, barely over the 50% needed for regulatory approval.

Researchers at Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute who conducted the trials previously stressed it was 78% effective against mild to severe cases.

Sinovac Biotech is Indonesia’s biggest vaccine supplier, and while the country is buying other brands, officials explained the Chinese could deliver fastest.

“I think the main reason why Sinovac is being used in Indonesia is that they committed to deliver this vaccine at the end of December 2020, while the others were still in the negotiation process,” Dr Nadia said.

“We plan to have 181.5 million of the population vaccinated, which means we need like 426 million doses of vaccine which is a really huge number and it may not be able to be fulfilled by only having one vaccine type or vaccine factory.”

Military official receives COVID-19 vaccine.
A military official receives his COVID-19 vaccine

While many countries in the West are focusing on European and American-made vaccines, in Asia, nations including Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand are all starting with Sinovac.

Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Australia’s Griffith University, said China has deliberately positioned itself to fill a gap in the market and supply developing countries which would otherwise face a long wait.

“Vaccine diplomacy has become one of the tools for big countries to improve and increase their power in the region. China will use this as a diplomatic power, that’s for sure,” he said.

But with more than 270 million people to protect and surging cases, it’s a power game Indonesia’s willing to play, with leaders hoping this will be a turning point in the fight against the pandemic

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