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Virginia-based DNA tech company may help solve Anne Arundel cold case

Posted at 10:22 PM, Feb 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-15 14:16:09-04

Inside an unassuming floor in an office building in Reston, Virginia, a small team is turning over huge findings.

“As people have seen that we’re helping solve 25-year-old cases, they’re saying, ‘what about that case we had last week, or last month, or last year’ – recent cases that you don’t get a hit in the databases right off the start,” Dr. Ellen McRae Greytak, the director for bioinformatics for Parabon NanoLabs, said.

For Greytak, the work is piling in.

Parabon is growing. The budding DNA technology company created a snapshot of perhaps the future of police criminal investigations.

“In the cases we’re working on, usually they don’t have that information because if they did, they’d already have an idea as to who they were looking for,” Greytak said.

The information she’s speaking of is a missing clue investigators wouldn’t know they needed – a digital composite based off the smallest samples of DNA, from a drop of blood to a single hair follicle.

The ‘Snapshot’ program is jump starting decades old, unsolved police cases.

“It’s very specifically looking at particular parts of the DNA that we know code for differences in appearance,” Greytak said.

Anne Arundel County Police homicide Sgt. R.J. Price is hoping the snapshot will help the eight-year-old cold case death of Michael Temple, Jr.

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“With this DNA evidence, it may point us in the right direction of someone that, maybe, lived in the area that maybe saw these people prior,” Price said.

Temple, Jr. stabbed his attacker before he was shot.

The blood left behind served as the link to putting a face on a killer.

“We’re predicting traits. We predict and say here’s this person’s eye color, hair color, the amount of freckles on their face and then the shape of their face. Does the person have a wider jaw or a pointier nose – things like that,” Greytak said.

The samples of DNA are sent to a third-party lab. The results are then fed to computers at Parabon for scientists to put into the snapshot system.

From there, a digital artist creates the final result – a life-like composite that allows police to narrow their search or lead them down a new direction.

“But the point is, the vast majority of people in the world are not going to match that. So if you gave the police department, that composite, there will be a lot of people that they can eliminate from their suspect list,” Greytak said.

A filter that’s helping dozens of departments.

Parabon has seen about 150 cases since they started the Parabon program. It costs $3,600 for every case.

It’s not just a luxury, Snapshot has helped investigators solve cases in New Mexico, North Carolina, and even Texas.