DNA Solves Crimes Too

Every day for 18 years Linda Mitchell was haunted by the memory of the man who had covered her face with a pillow, and raped her. An unsolved crime. She had everyone to suspect and no one to blame.

"I would be stopped at a stoplight and I would think that person across from me could be the man who raped me," she said.

Nearly two decades later her case became part of a revolution in law enforcement. Scientists at the Virginia State Crime Lab matched DNA preserved from the crime scene to an inmate in their DNA data bank — turning a cold case into what's called "cold hit".

"Once I had this name and the person had an identity I could stop blaming everybody else," said Mitchell.

Many states have started DNA data banks but this year Virginia has hit the crime solving jackpot. After 11 years, the sheer size of its database is producing a cold hit every day. And almost every cold hit means an arrest and conviction in an unsolved violent crime.

Last year Charlottesville Police Lieutenant Chip Harding had exhausted all leads in the case of a serial rapist that terrorized the city. "This predator was attacking in broad daylight. You could be walking in an area that was fairly populated and he'd drag you off into the bushes."

Then, last summer, DNA linked three of those crimes to one man, Shannon Malenowski. He's pleaded not guilty, but after his arrest those daylight attacks stopped.

"You drink from your coffee cup, we got you. Smoking cigarettes, throwing them on the ground we know who you are," explains Harding.

When asked if this is a case where the computer saw the suspect and they eye witness did not, harding said, "The computer saw the suspect and the eye witness did not."

"This technology is revolutionizing the way police investigators are approaching crimes and investigations," proclaimed to Virginia's Forensic Chief Paul Ferrara. However, the DNA revolution hasn't arrived in most states and Ferrara thinks that's an outrage. "There are hundreds of thousands of unworked cases sitting around."

Which means that thousands of pieces of evidence and more than a million felons nationwide have not been entered in any state database.

"I'm sitting here knowing that if they ran all those convicted felons and if they ran all that crime scene material they'd be solving hundreds, thousand of crimes," said Ferrara.

Crimes just like the one that victimized Linda Mitchell.

"Every one of those evidence kits or boxes is a person's life; people's lives that are in limbo because they don't have the information that they need to have closure," said Ferrrara.

Today Linda Mitchell is the Rev. Mitchell a rural Lutheran minister and a believer in the power of DNA to give crime victims a sense of finality.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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