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Connecticut Crime Lab Offers DNA Testing Funds to Local Police

As more cold cases are solved using forensic genealogy, Connecticut’s forensic lab is offering funds to local police departments looking to crack unsolved crimes by testing DNA evidence for familial links.

(TNS) — As more and more cold cases are solved using forensic genealogy, Connecticut’s forensic lab is offering funding to local police departments that are looking to take a fresh approach to unsolved crimes by testing DNA evidence for familial links.

Investigators use DNA samples to locate new leads in cold cases by comparing DNA samples found at crime scenes to now-available public databases that have millions of DNA samples that have been sent in to genealogical companies.

Those samples can help investigators link their suspects’ DNA samples to particular families, narrowing the pool of potential suspects.

“In forensic genealogy you are using public databases that can be used to link family trees and find a possible relative to a possible perpetrator,’’ said Sevasti Papakanakis, deputy director of Forensic Biology and DNA at the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory in Meriden. “There are so many cases we have in this state that haven’t been solved.”

“We are talking about cases that were tested anytime from the 1970s or 1980s to very recently and they just don’t have any investigative leads that are useful,’’ Papakanakis added.

“Forensic genealogy helped solve two notorious serial sexual assault cases in recent years in Connecticut and now the Division of Scientific Services at the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection has grants available to local police departments for long dormant cold cases,” said Rick Green, a spokesperson for DESPP.

Papakanakis said the grant funding will allow the state lab to work hand-in-hand with law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to identify cases that may benefit from funding for DNA testing.

The average cost of analyzing a DNA sample is about $7,500, according to the DESPP.

Police departments are asked to contact Papankanakis’ office with cases that they have DNA samples for so that the lab can determine if the case is suitable for the funded testing.

“They can bring it forward, and we’ll see what we can figure out together,” Papankanakis said.

This year’s funding, through the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s grant “Fiscal Year 2024 Prosecuting Cold Cases,” is being used differently than it has in the past.

In previous years, the grant’s funding has been given directly to law enforcement agencies to work cold cases in certain cities or towns. But this year, the funding is going directly to the state lab.

“The way it’s set up is that we were given the funding and the cases will be worked through us,” Papankanakis said. “It’s a different kind of collaboration this time around.”

This new approach will allow the lab to look at cases state-wide, working with multiple jurisdictions.

“We need to be the lead agency and we need to be able to work across multiple jurisdictions,” she said. “It’s really important that we serve the entire state.”

The funding in 2020, Papakanakis said, applied only to Hartford cases. Papakanakis said she remembered coming across cold cases that could have benefited from the funding but that weren’t eligible because they were outside of Hartford.

“It’s really important that we serve the entire state,” she said.

Last year, a nearly 40-year cold case ended in a conviction for crimes that took place across four towns in Connecticut.

For years, Michael Sharpe, a former charter school CEO, was known only as “John Doe” in police records pertaining to a string of home invasions that occurred in Bloomfield, Middletown, Rocky Hill and Windsor in the summer of 1984.

Former Hartford charter school CEO found guilty of kidnapping four women who were attacked in their homes in the 80s

For nearly four decades, four women who were attacked in their homes that summer feared their unknown assailant. Cold case investigators used genetic genealogy to test DNA samples from the crime scenes against DNA databases and narrowed down their suspects to Sharpe or his brothers, then only to Sharpe through further testing.

Sharpe was convicted in Hartford Superior Court in November 2022 on four charges of first-degree kidnapping in the commission of a felony, the statute of limitations for sexual assault having long passed. His victims were able to have their day in court and deliver victim impact statements due to geological DNA testing.

© 2024 Hartford Courant. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.