Harrington: Familial DNA Could Catch Morgan’s Killer

Dan Harrington believes landmark DNA technology could help investigators connect the dots in the search for his daughter’s murderer.

“With luck and science we hope that the person who killed our daughter will be brought to justice,” Harrington told members of the Virginia Crime Commission yesterday.

Morgan Harrington disappeared in October, 2009, after a concert in Charlottesville. A farmer discovered her body in a rural portion of Albemarle County Jan. 26.

Police have linked DNA from her body to an unsolved sexual assault that happened in Fairfax five years ago. But so far, investigators have been unable to match the sample to a name.

That’s where familial DNA could help.

The technology is being used in just two states — Colorado and California.  It takes an unknown sample and runs it through the state database, looking for matches with blood relatives who might have DNA records from previous arrests.

It garnered notoriety this summer for helping lead investigators to California’s notorious Grim Sleeper serial killer.

Dan Harrington believes the technology could help police find someone who’s related to the unknown suspect tied to the Fairfax assault and to Morgan’s murder.

“It may or may not make a difference in Morgan’s case,” he told me in an interview. “But there are a lot of unsettled, unsolved cases that it could make a difference in.”

Those cases include a spree of sexual assaults committed by a man dubbed the East Coast Rapist.

The crime commission has been studying familial DNA searches for months. The technique is somewhat controversial because critics say it is an invasion of privacy and that it unfairly singles out people who have been incarcerated.

The attorney general’s office believes Virginia law already allows the state crime lab to perform the test. Now, the question is if and how to do so. There’s a general consensus among commission members that this issue does not (and probably should not) go to the legislature for debate.

Legislators tell me it’s likely the Department of Forensic Science will get the green light to start running the tests, in very limited cases.  First year costs will run about $165, ooo.

The crime commission will meet again next month, and could issue guidance to the crime lab then.

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