This Week in Forensic Science

No one has hours to scour the papers to keep up with the latest news, so we’ve curated the top news stories in the field of Forensic Science for this week. Here’s what you need to know to get out the door!




Arkansas State Crime Lab Preparing for Roll-Out of Rapid DNA Testing (Arkansas Democrat Gazette – 9/03/2023)


Cold Case Without Clues for 30 Years Cracked in Four Days in DNA Breakthrough (Mirror – 9/3/2023)

    • Forensic techniques that weren’t available before have easily cracked open the 30-year-cold case of Roxanne Wood, who was discovered brutally murdered and sexually assaulted inside her Michigan home in 1987



Investigative Genetic Genealogy Helps Catch Sexual Predator Wanted in Sacramento (CBS News Sacramento – 9/05/2023)

    • Authorities say they used a relatively new DNA profiling technique to capture an alleged sexual predator in New York, wanted for several assaults in Sacramento.

      Thirty-five-year-old Kabeh Cummings was extradited back to Sacramento Friday. He is accused of raping two women in Sacramento and another woman several years later in Sacramento County.

      Authorities say DNA evidence was entered into the Combined DNA Index System back then, but no links were found and the case went cold. It wasn’t until 2019 when a cold case detective with the Sacramento County Police Department revisited the case that there was a break. At that time, the detective utilized the same type of technology that led to the capture and conviction of Golden State Killer Joseph DeAngelo.



Germany Matches DNA from Skulls Stolen from African Colony to Living Relatives (The Guardian – 9/05/2023)

  • Researchers in Berlin have identified living relatives of people whose remains were stolen from Tanzania and taken to Germany for “scientific” experiments during the colonial era.

    Berlin’s Museum of Prehistory and Early History has been carrying out research since 2017 on about 1,100 skulls taken from what was then known as German East Africa.

    The museum announced on Tuesday that DNA analysis had provided a clear link to living descendants in Tanzania, hailing the find as a “small miracle”.

    “The relatives and the government of Tanzania will now be informed as soon as possible,” the museum said in a statement.

    The skulls are part of a collection of about 7,700 that were acquired by the museum from Berlin’s Charité hospital in 2011, the museum authority said. Many of them were part of a collection assembled by the doctor and anthropologist Felix von Luschan during German colonial rule.


DNA Exonerates 72-Year-Old, Overturns Longest Wrongful Conviction in US, Officials Say (Miami Herald – 9/05/2023)

  • Officers in search of a rape suspect arrested Leonard Mack 48 years ago — when he matched the description of a Black man wearing an earring and a hat in New York, officials said.

    Hours before his arrest May 23, 1975, two female high school students were held at gunpoint and forced into the woods where they were tied, gagged and blindfolded by an unknown perpetrator in Greenburgh, about 20 miles northeast of Manhattan in New York City, according to prosecutors.

    The suspect raped one student twice and tried to sexually assault the other girl, prosecutors said.

    After Westchester County Parkway Police arrested Mack on the Bronx River Parkway, he was convicted of first-degree rape and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon — and later sentenced April 27, 1976, to serve up to 15 years in prison in New York, according to officials.

    Although Mack, 72, maintained his innocence in prison, his conviction was never overturned and he spent over seven years in prison, officials said.

    Now, new DNA evidence obtained this year exonerates Mack, who lives in South Carolina, and points to a new suspect who officials said has confessed to his role in the 1975 rape case, the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office announced in a Sept. 5 news release.

Another Doe Identified as Part of Unidentified Human Remains DNA Initiative (Forensic – 9/06/2023)

  • In August 1983, skeletal remains were discovered in a wooded area approximately 25 feet from Sycamore Lane in Crossville. A forensic pathologist determined that the remains were those of a black male, likely between the ages of 20 and 25 years old. The victim had been stabbed multiple times, and his death was ruled a homicide. Despite not knowing the identity of the victim, TBI and Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office developed a suspect in the case. In May 1984, as a result of the investigation, the individual was charged and later pled guilty to Second Degree Murder in exchange for a 20-year prison sentence.

    While the person responsible for the crime was sent to prison, the homicide victim could not be identified. Attempts to identify Cumberland County John Doe continued over the years, and in 2007, the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center submitted a sample of his remains to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI). A DNA profile was developed and entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, as UP1580, in hopes that the man would eventually be identified. However, no matches ever came.

    In December 2022, as part of the Unidentified Human Remains DNA Initiative, TBI agents submitted a sample of the man’s skeletal remains to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas for forensic genetic genealogical (FGG) DNA testing. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the skeletal remains and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogical search to help generate investigative leads that were returned to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

    An intelligence analyst with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Scientists used the investigative leads from Othram to locate potential family members in Michigan. Agents made contact with one of those individuals and confirmed he had a brother who had not heard from him in four decades. Agents were able to obtain a familial DNA reference sample to determine if the potential family member was related to the unknown man. Additional DNA testing and a follow investigation positively identified the man as Kenneth Levall Thompson (DOB: 11/04/1965) of Detroit, Michigan.



Automation of Sexual Assault DNA Processing Increases Efficiency (NIJ– 9/06/2023)

  • The ability to prosecute a sexual assault case often relies on the availability of DNA evidence. It has been reported that 72% of jurors anticipate seeing DNA in a sexual assault trial [1] and that juries are 33 times more likely to convict when presented with DNA evidence.[2] This presents a problem in the quest for justice because the process of manually extracting DNA from sexual assault kits can be time consuming and labor intensive. The consequence is a nationwide backlog of unprocessed kits.

    With funding from the National Institute of Justice, Dr. Susan Greenspoon and colleagues from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science sought to increase the efficiency of processing sexual assault kit samples to help reduce the backlog. Specifically, the researchers automated a key step in the process that separates sperm cells from other cells —known as the DNAse I procedure — by using the Biomek® NXP robotic platform.