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Technology Breathes New Life Into Cold Case

ARLINGTON (CBS11) - Despite her glamorous senior portraits, Teresa Branch's brother will remember the teen as a rough and tumble girl.

Teresa Branch
Teresa Branch (courtesy: Branch family)

"She and I growing up, we were just constantly battling like a couple of boys would do. She was always ready to mix it up with her big brother," said Claudio Branch.

On an early April morning in 1986, the teen's car kept stalling out. One of her friends was traveling with her. Branch decided to jog back to her parent's home--about half a mile away-- to get help. Her friend stayed behind in the car.

Investigators say a group of teens discovered Teresa's lifeless body in the parking lot of Harmony Baptist Church. Teresa had been raped, shot and abandoned on the concrete.

For 31 years, there have been no arrests. Though no witnesses have described his face, thanks to DNA that police collected at the scene three decades ago, investigators have released a composite sketch of a possible suspect.

Parabon NanoLabs sketch off suspect's DNA
Parabon NanoLabs sketch off suspect's DNA

Parabon NanoLabs is behind the so called "Snapshot DNA Phenotyping." It uses DNA profiles to predict genetic ancestry, eye color, hair color and skin color. Based on the 1986 murder suspect's DNA profile, the company determined he is of Middle Eastern descent.

The company insists the sketch is not meant to serve as a photograph. It should be regarded as a genetic witness.

"Our information is an objective genetic witness that tells [investigators] here are predictions that we can make about this person. We know it's theirs because their DNA is there. Using that information they can prioritize their investigation and exclude suspects," said Dr, Ellen Greytak, Director of Bioinformatics at Parabon NanoLabs.

The company has worked on nearly 150 cases around the world.

Branch said he's cautiously optimistic.

"They can start looking at the suspects closer to the profile. It is a focused search rather than a big global search," he explained.

Based on the witness information they have, detectives believe two men may have been involved in Teresa's murder.

Before the composite sketch, they had no description of either possible suspect. They hope the sketch may jog memories that could help them close the case.

Branch said for the last three decades, life has had to go on. But he has not given up hope that Teresa's killer could still be found.

"It's the final chapter in a terrible story. Obviously, justice needs to be served. The person who did this needs to be punished for their crimes," he said.


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