The “Golden State Killer” and his heinous spree of rape and murder had been a significant focus of our attention for more than two years. Some of our readers may remember the remarkable story about the capture of Joseph James DeAngelo. You may also not forget that investigators discovered his identity using a relatively new and controversial method—genealogical triangulation.
Police investigators utilized the public DNA database GEDmatch to match crime-scene DNA; however, DeAngelo’s DNA was not in the database, but a relative genetic sequence was in the system. Here’s how GEDmatch works:
“People voluntarily supply their own DNA sequences that they obtain through consumer sequencing companies—such as MyHeritage and provide email addresses, which allows presumed relatives to contact each other.”
Using a 37-year-old rape kit from a murder case attributed to the Golden State Killer, detectives were able to find a relative of DeAngelo, and the rest is history. Some forty years later, the Golden State Killer, aka the “Original Night Stalker,” found himself behind bars. DeAngelo is thought to be responsible for at least 12 murders and 50 rapes in California.
We have been following the DeAngelo’s trial and other instances of cold cases solved through genealogical triangulation. The technique for solving crime has led to several arrests, and it’s led to many concerns about genetic privacy.
Yaniv Erlich, a geneticist at Columbia University and GEDmatch chief science officer, wrote a piece on genetic privacy appearing in Nature Reviews Genetics. He cautioned that police could use public genetic databases for fishing for perpetrators. That was in 2014. Following DeAngelo’s arrest four years later, when asked about people voluntarily putting their DNA data into GEDmatch, Erlich said:
“It’s not like people fully understand the consequences of putting their DNA into a public database. They think, “So many people use the website, so it’s OK.” Or: “Oh, it’s a website for genealogy.” What if it was called Police Genealogy? People wouldn’t do it. We don’t think about everything. We think about the most likely thing.”
Golden State Killer Sentenced to Life
In July, we shared that DeAngelo, a former police officer, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of kidnapping. The surprise admission of guilt came one day after HBO aired a six-part docuseries about the decades-long crime spree.
In August’s final days, Judge Michael Bowman sentenced 74-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. to life without parole for killing 13 people and raping 50, The Los Angeles Times reports. Victims, family members, prosecutors, and some of the news reporters who covered the first of DeAngelo’s crimes dating back to the 1970s were at the sentencing.
“These rapes and these murders, in the words of our victims, have cut across families, friends, generations, and entire communities,” said Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert.
Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer
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