Florida violent crime investigators are now solving cold cases with the help of a more advanced DNA test. The state has recently started using a test that can zero in on just male genetic material.
Four years ago, a woman was raped early one morning in suburban Gainesville. Despite several leads and tips called in to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, investigators had given up hope of finding her attacker and closed the case. Then, a few months ago, state labs began offering a new type of DNA analysis called a Y-STR test.
Jacksonville state crime lab supervisor Marcie Scott says the analyst who had originally worked the Gainesville case was about to leave her job, and as an outgoing gesture, she decided to run a DNA sample through the new test.
“We were able to make a comparison, which helped us identify an individual from the database of DNA profiles that the state of Florida has," she says.
After the lab reported its findings to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, police were able to reopen their investigation. They eventually arrested four-time felon Andrew Payne Jr. and charged him with the rape last Thursday.
Since the Y-STR test was introduced in April, it’s also been used to analyze evidence in a Tampa homicide case. The state’s chief of forensic services, David Coffman, says several other states have already been using the test and Florida investigators had been asking for it for years.
“It’s gonna give us one more tool to help solve the case. So, obviously, in these two cases, they would not have been solved had it not been for the Y-STR testing," he says.
But it can’t be used in many cases because of a key limitation. Scott, of the Jacksonville crime lab, says the Y-STR test can narrow down a man’s genetic profile only as far as to tell what family he belongs to. That means, a father and his sons would all have the same result. So, she says, analysts have narrow criteria for cases that would most likely benefit from the new test.
“When you have cases where there’s a female present, and her DNA is in much higher concentration than the male’s DNA, and the investigators have a particular suspect in mind, that would be a good case," she says.
One hopeful candidate, evidence from a Tallahassee cold case, is now on its way to the Jacksonville lab, where state analysts think the test will be able to help investigators.