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Friday, February 02, 2007

DNA leads to suspect in '94 rape case

This article appeared in the Massachusetts Republican on January 23, 2007:

DNA leads to suspect in 1994 rape case

By Marla A. Goldberg
mgoldberg@repub.com

SPRINGFIELD - The trail has not grown cold on a rape committed in Springfield more than 12 years ago.

Through DNA matching, a suspect in the Oct. 2, 1994, crime, Aurelio Pinero, 37, of Springfield, was identified and charged, Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett announced yesterday.

At a press conference surrounded by several local police chiefs and Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory officials, Bennett called for a significant expansion of mandatory DNA collection in Massachusetts. He said use of the state's DNA database led to grand jury indictments against six people on Friday, including Pinero, for previously unsolved crimes.

All 50 states now have laws allowing collection of DNA from convicted criminals, for entry into the Federal Bureau of Investigation's three-tiered Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which includes local, state and national levels.

"Police chiefs, state police and myself strongly support DNA testing and extension of the CODIS .... (It) identifies the perpetrator, exonerates the innocent and also prevents future crime," Bennett said. "We urge the Legislature to expand the DNA database to include ... all known offenders."

Under Massachusetts law, only people convicted of felonies must provide DNA samples, but Bennett called for broadening the requirement to include those convicted of misdemeanors as well. The commonwealth should also adopt the "California Rule," Bennett said, and collect DNA from everyone arrested on felony charges as soon as possible, "so the truth-finding process is not delayed."

Bennett said crimes go unsolved because perpetrators die first, and DNA should be collected whenever an autopsy is performed, if the deceased is within certain age limits.

William C. Newman, director of the Western Massachusetts office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group opposes mandatory DNA testing. "There obviously are enormous privacy concerns .... DNA is not like a fingerprint, it exposes and reveals an enormous amount of personal information to the government," without sufficient controls over its dissemination and use, he said.

Newman cited the potential for misuses, if insurance companies demanded genetic health information, or such data were stolen by computer hackers.

Collecting DNA from people convicted of misdemeanors would also overwhelm the state police laboratories and would ultimately make the system break down, Newman said. "The laboratory would never be able to get to the serious cases that need DNA testing .... It would be a massive waste of state money," he said. "There's no reason to believe that such a massive investment of public funds would contribute to public safety."

After yesterday's press conference, state Sen. Stephen J. Buoniconti, D-West Springfield, said that he has refiled a bill which didn't pass last year, to broaden mandatory DNA collection to include youthful offenders who commit serious crimes, and anyone convicted of an offense carrying a potential jail sentence, regardless of the penalty they ultimately receive.

The proposed legislation is "not as expansive," as the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association is seeking, Buoniconti said.

However, it may be redrafted, to require collection of DNA from people convicted of serious misdemeanors, such as assault and battery. Costs might prohibit collection from those convicted of misdemeanor driving offenses, Buoniconti said.

"Anybody who has been in law enforcement knows that people start with nickel and dime crimes," Buoniconti said at the press conference, citing the importance of stopping criminals early in their careers. DNA collection, Buoniconti said, is "not a serious infringement on a human right or human liberty."

Holyoke Police Chief Anthony R. Scott credited the state police crime lab with finding a consistent DNA profile in three separate cases, including a rape in 1988, a home burglary in 2001, and an armed, masked robbery at a convenience store in 2005, where a bandanna yielded genetic material. Bennett's office plans to bring the cases before a grand jury, and seek indictments against the assailant as "John Doe," until he is identified by name. The crime lab is "helping us bring these animals to justice," Scott said.

Similarly, in July, a grand jury indicted a DNA profile as "John Doe," for the 1991 rape of an Agawam woman. Since then, the same profile was found in a West Springfield rape case, and investigators are sharing information in an effort to identify the suspect.

"A key to the future is to expand that database," said Wilbraham Police Chief Allen Stratton yesterday, displaying a cotton swab in a plastic wrapper. "This is a DNA collection kit," he said.

State Police Crime Lab Director Carl M. Selavka said a new crime lab will open early next month on Carando Drive in Springfield, incorporating facilities formerly in Agawam and Sturbridge. The laboratory will employ about 15 people, he said, including state troopers, chemists, and those working in crime scene and firearms identification services.

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