Bruce Harrington, whose brother and sister-in-law were murdered in their California home 23 years ago, is leading an effort to use DNA to find the killer and to solve hundreds of other cold cases, the Los Angeles Times says. Harrington is pushing for a voter initiative to expand California’s DNA database to include every convicted felon in the state. The measure would allow local agencies to collect DNA evidence, beginning in 2009, from anyone arrested on suspicion of a felony. “What’s driving me is a sense of wanting to avenge the death of my brother and his wife,” said Harrington, a Newport Beach real estate developer. “I believe that DNA technology is the last practical hope of resolving the who and why of [their] deaths.”
Detectives used DNA evidence to link the deaths of newlyweds Keith and Patty Harrington to four other slayings; they suspect the perpetrator is either in prison or dead.
Prosecutors say an expanded database would help catch criminals, solve cold cases, and exonerate the innocent. A bill with similar provisions failed in the legislature this year, amid concerns over cost and impact on civil liberties. “This is the new fingerprint identification system,” Los Angeles County District Attorney. Steve Cooley said. “The science is there. We just have to capture it and optimize our use of it. We know that this is the way to go.”
Critics say expanding the database would invade inmates’ privacy rights and allow the state to violate the U.S. Constitution by gathering evidence without suspicion that targets have committed a crime.
With expanded DNA collection, Harrington says that in his family murder case, “We are going to mine the population DNA of prison inmates. Through that mining effort, we are hopefully going to bring closure to who is the original night stalker.”
The state’s database contains more than 200,000 DNA samples from offenders convicted of any of 36 serious and violent felonies. It was expanded in 2002 to include first-degree residential burglary, first-degree robbery, carjacking, and arson. An all-felon database would include more than 1 million samples. Backers must collect 373,816 valid signatures by April 2004 to get the proposed initiative on the November ballot.
Backers cite the database in Virginia, where data show that 82% of rape and murder hits would have been missed had the data been limited to violent offenses. The data show that 35% of the violent crimes solved were committed by individuals with previous property crime convictions.