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Va. Forensic Department Will Study Controversial DNA Testing Technique

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By Jonathan Wilson

Virginia's Forensic Science Board has decided to study, but not yet implement, familial DNA testing, a technique that can identify relatives of a criminal suspect.

It's a controversial practice, currently used in only two other states.

Familial DNA testing lets law enforcement narrow investigations by using partial DNA matches to identify relatives of a possible suspect within the criminal database.

The technique has been used successfully in Colorado and in California, where authorities used it to find a suspect in the "Grim Sleeper" serial killings last month.

Mitch Morrissey is the district attorney for Denver, Colorado, and says familial DNA testing could help solve the case of the "East Coast Rapist," a man police believe has been attacking women for at least the past 13 years, many in Northern Virginia.

"And of the states this man has attacked, 19 different victims, 4 different states: Virginia is the state that has the largest database," says Morrissey.

Stephen Mercer is an attorney with the Maryland Public Defender's office. He says just because a technique can help solve crimes doesn't mean police should use it.

"Warrant-less searches of houses would solve many crimes, serious crimes included," he says.

Maryland is the only state to explicitly outlaw familial DNA testing, legislators cite privacy concerns.

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