Orlando homicide detective uses commercial DNA website to solve cases

Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

In what could be the first approach of its kind, an Orlando homicide detective convinced a judge to sign a warrant, so he could search a commercial DNA website to generate familial leads in a murder investigation.

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Detective Michael Fields used commercial DNA site GEDmatch for assistance on a homicide investigation in 2018, but at that time there were no restrictions placed on law enforcement personnel seeking information.

The site changed its policy in May of this year, however, and decided it would not easily release information to law enforcement agencies, the type of information that previously had helped Fields crack a decade-old homicide case.

“It was sitting in the file, and we didn’t have a match,” said Fields.

The case went cold. The DNA sample from the 2001 slaying of University of Central Florida student Christine Frank led police nowhere.

More than 15 years later, Fields said he turned to commercial DNA sites for help.

Fields first tried with Ancestry.com and 23 and Me, then he finally looked into GEDmatch, which gave him what he needed.

“When I got the results back, I was floored,” Fields said.

When detectives ran the DNA sample from the crime scene, the database linked it to three people believed to be distant cousins of the killer.

Detectives were able to track down their suspect and make an arrest.

But now, when he wanted to use the same site in a different case, Fields learned GEDmatch had changed its privacy policy, but he got around it.

“I just applied the same thing we’ve been doing for years to this new thing,” Fields said.

He wrote up a search warrant of more than 50 pages.

“Since it was the first search warrant ever written against a genealogy website, I made sure every 'i' was dotted, every 't' was crossed,” Fields said.

A judge signed it, and GEDmatch responded within 24 hours, letting Fields push aside those privacy settings and search the website's database of about 1.5 million people.

He wasn’t able to provide a lot of detail about the case, but Fields did say the DNA data did generate some leads.

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