DNA-Collection Ruse Helps Solve 20-Year-Old Murder

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John Nicholas Athan received a letter about a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of people overcharged on parking tickets. If he wanted to take part in the case he had to sign and return the enclosed form. He licked the self-addressed envelope, sent it back and waited to hear if he would get any money, the Associated Press reports.

The letter was part of a ruse devised by Seattle detectives to get a sample of Athan’s DNA and connect him to a slaying that had gone unsolved for nearly 21 years. Saliva on the flap of the envelope was matched genetically to semen taken from the body of 13-year-old Kristen Sumstad, who was raped and strangled in 1982. Athan, 35, was arrested last week on murder charges not far from his home in Palisades Park, N.J.

Athan’s attorney will protest, but criminal law expert John M. Junker of the University of Washington School of Law says “the courts have said you have no expectation of privacy when you are sharing information willingly with someone who turns out to be an undercover agent.”

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