North Carolina didn’t have Willard Brown’s DNA on file, but they had his brother’s. That was good enough to solve a murder, reports USA Today. Detectives took it from there. Detectives found Brown’s brother, scooped up the butts of cigarettes he had smoked and discarded, and got a sample of his DNA from the saliva. It matched the sample from the crime scene perfectly. Last December, Willard Brown pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison plus 10 years.
DNA science, which can pinpoint identities with virtual certainty, is being used to help investigators get close to targets. Detectives have begun to solve not just crimes by convicts whose DNA profiles are in government databases, but also those committed by relatives whose profiles were not on file. Siblings, parents, and even uncles and cousins are being investigated because their genetic fingerprints closely resemble DNA of a known criminal. Such “familial searches” could greatly expand the power of the computer databases that authorities have used for a decade to compare genetic profiles taken from convicted criminals with DNA left at crime scenes.