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Excerpt: "Just as quickly as the story had arrived, it fizzled, undone by multiple reports that the DNA belonged not to a suspected killer, but rather to a NYPD lab technician."

NYPD detectives make false DNA match on chain linking OWS to murder of Sarah Fox. (photo: Pete Donohue/NY Daily News)
NYPD detectives make false DNA match on chain linking OWS to murder of Sarah Fox. (photo: Pete Donohue/NY Daily News)

False DNA Link to OWS and Student's Murder

By Jesse Singal, The Daily Beast

12 July 12


Occupy Wall Street: Take the Bull by the Horns


ednesday, the nation was peppered with breathless, if thinly sourced, reports of a shocking link between two very different, seemingly unrelated crimes: a match between DNA samples lifted from the CD player owned by and found near the corpse of slain Juliard student Sarah Fox in 2004 and ones taken from a chain used to open a gate in a free-subway-rides stunt backed by Occupy Wall Street in March. OWS MURDER LINK, blared the New York Post cover.

But just as quickly as the story had arrived, it fizzled, undone by multiple reports that the DNA belonged not to a suspected killer, but rather to a NYPD lab technician.

It was a high-profile embarrassment for New York State’s use of DNA samples that also raised new questions about the NYPD’s much-criticized treatment of Occupy Wall Street. (Occupy was also in the news Wednesday after a group marching from Philadelphia briefly returned to Zuccotti Park) Perhaps foremost among those questions: How was the apparent error missed, and the Occupy-murder angle pushed to the press, when the ME’s office contends that it has records of all its workers’ DNA to avoid just this sort of false match?

In March, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed a law greatly expanding the state’s databank, which now collects DNA from anyone convicted of any crime, even a misdemeanor (the sole exception is for those without criminal records convicted of public possession of small amounts of marijuana)—giving the state one of the nation’s most extensive and intrusive DNA policies. At the time, critics, including The New York Times, charged that the law was unfairly tilted in favor of prosecuting alleged criminals rather than exonerating falsely convicted ones.

In one sense, the current investigation is a separate issue—no one is arguing that police don’t have the right to collect evidence from a crime scene and test it for DNA, which the law views in a far different light than the more invasive process of collecting DNA from a human being. So the NYPD could have tested the chain even before the new law went into effect. But this incident still fits firmly into the broader set of concerns civil liberties groups have about the manner in which New York deals with DNA evidence.

“There are plenty of entirely innocent reasons and explanations as to why one’s DNA may turn up at a crime scene,” said Robert Perry, Legislative Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, “but in the popular imagination and even in the minds of some law enforcement professionals, DNA evidence takes on almost magical properties. Meaning its very presence at a crime scene may come to signify guilt.”

Perry and his organization have long argued that policies like New York’s, intended to build vast collections of DNA samples from a wide swatch of the population, are much more likely to lead to matches—and that this isn’t a good thing. A match, they argue, doesn’t automatically indicate culpability, because, as Perry explained, people tend to underestimate “how frequently human error can enter into the collection and analysis of DNA.” Matches occurring due to issues like cross-contamination or degraded samples that get misinterpreted happen “with alarming frequency, and it’s not fully appreciated by the public or law enforcement professionals,” he said. Perry pointed to the work of researchers like William C. Thompson (PDF), who have called into question the infallible manner in which DNA evidence is viewed by many laypeople and even law enforcement pros.

As for this particular match, there’s also a question of selective enforcement. If this door-chaining, part of a wildcat push by New York’s rather radical Transit Workers Union, hadn’t been connected to Occupy Wall Street, a group against which the NYPD has been engaged in a long, ugly struggle, would the city have gone through the hassle of lifting DNA evidence from the chain—especially given that it was likely to be contaminated by anyone else who touched it?

“In the popular imagination and even in the minds of some law enforcement professionals, DNA evidence takes on almost magical properties.”

The NYPD’s press office declined to answer the Daily Beast’s questions about why DNA was collected from the chain. But David Kaye, a law professor at Penn State and the author of The Double Helix and the Law of Evidence, said the department’s tactics in this case stood out.

“What’s interesting is taking [the DNA] from a chain that so many people could have touched and then running that through the database of crime scene-samples from other crime scenes and finding a match,” he said. “I guess that’s creative.”

“They’re either very committed to finding clues, no matter how weak, or they’re out to get a group of people.” your social media marketing partner


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+22 # giraffee2012 2012-07-12 09:34
They (the police state) are out to stop the OWS (the 99%)with any means - unlawful and full of untruths and heavy hands. Why? So they (the Koch who funded the extra NYPD at the beginning of the OWS) can have their way.

The Koch (actually ALEC) are out to control the USA - funding the voter suppression to women's rights - why? $$, Power, Gestapo style etc.

You still have the power to turn OFF FAUX, Rush, etc and also the POWER OF THE VOTE - vote straight Dem/Progressive . I cannot think of one TP/GOP who is not beholden to ALEC.

VOTE DEM// VOTE President Obama and get all you can to also vote
+13 # chrisconnolly 2012-07-12 11:09
"The Koch (actually ALEC) are out to control the USA - funding the voter suppression to women's rights - why? $$, Power, Gestapo style etc."

Truer still, in light of the new free trade agreement being secretly formulated that allows all multi-national corporations to conduct any business they want with total exemption from our local, state, and even national laws, including taxes, the Kock brothers want to implement world corporate domination. This will require police states that are beholden to corporate militaries, i.e. Blackwater recently purchased by Monsanto. This is becoming a scary world in which dissent is criminal and fraud and greed are the law of the land.
+2 # giraffee2012 2012-07-13 12:27
OMG - this 2012 election is the most important election of our lives - vote DEM
+10 # Buddha 2012-07-12 11:40
This was released because they knew that any retraction of the story would be buried and missed, and the goal of the State is to discredit Occupy, as it is an existential threat to the status quo.

The larger issue is the use of DNA evidence in such a manner. The mathematics of comparing one genetic profile to another, and using a genetic match to "prove" identity between two samples, is very questionable. What DNA evidence is best used for is proving innocence, that one sample and another do NOT match. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt however that two people couldn't have the same genetic profile for the markers being used is much more problematic and the law rightly is skeptical in using DNA evidence in such a way.
+8 # bluepilgrim 2012-07-12 11:47
So this proves an NYPD lab technician murdered a student and then opened a subway gate. Wow -- who would have thought it? Have they arrested him yet?
Living in a fascist police state can be SO entertaining.
+8 # Electricrailwaygod 2012-07-12 12:49
Th whole DNA thing which can have good uses, such as establishing ancestral ties or geneological info, is being hijacked and used as an instrument of the State, for fascist corporate autocratic control.

This is just the beginning folks! Just you wait! Very soon, if not already, this DNA forensic matching will be used against ANYONE who the corporate state does not like! This is G. Orwells 1984 'refined'!

This DNA can implicate virtually anyone for any crime at the whim of the plutocracy! Very very scary!
+2 # oregonstu 2012-07-13 09:06
The question that begs to be asked is,why on earth would the police check this chain for DNA? The fact that the story was broken by a guy with ties to the police unions makes this even more suspicious... the whole thing reeks of a set up to smear OWS.

The checking of the chain for DNA is, by itself, enough to strain credulity. It is well known that there is a huge backlog of forensic evidence from major crime scenes that has never been tested for DNA. We're talking about thousands of rapes and murders, and DNA tests that could exonerate (or prove guilty) known suspects, yet the tests never get done - ostensibly because of the expense. (cont.)
+3 # oregonstu 2012-07-13 09:06
Yet here we have a trivial offense, no specific suspect that any DNA evidence - if found - could be tied to, no reason to believe that there is any likelihood of any DNA being found in the first place (simply touching the chain with your hand is not going to leave a testable DNA residue, there would need to be blood or body fluids on it) .... and yet the cops decide to pay for an expensive DNA test???? What a stinking crock of BS!

The way that this absurd story got trumpeted in the corporate media, with nobody raising any of these very obvious points, is further evidence of the governmental/co rporate media propaganda tag team at work. So now, I suppose, in the minds of the credulous masses, anyone who is in any way involved with the occupy movement should be considered a potential murderer? Fucking hilarious.

Hilarious, except for the fact that this is clearly another case of fabricated evidence being planted by the police, which I think most would agree is a bit more of a serious crime than riding on the subway without paying (what is the penalty for tampering with evidence, and fabricating evidence in a capital criminal case, I wonder?). This - and the media collusion in this pathetic propaganda ploy - is the real story. One that, of course, will never be told in the corporate media.

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