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DNA analysis becoming more important in solving Missouri crimes

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 | 3:31 p.m. CST; updated 10:00 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 6, 2013

COLUMBIA — MU police found blood and hair — evidence they are always eager for — beside the dead body of Jeong Im on the third floor of the Maryland Avenue parking garage.

In 2005, they sent the samples to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Laboratory in Jefferson City, hoping to nab the killer through the undeniable trace of DNA. There was no match.

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The mysterious DNA profile sat in the lab’s database for nearly eight years until January, when a tip identified Timothy Hoag as Im's killer. By then, Hoag had committed suicide by jumping from the Fifth and Walnut parking garage. MU police got his blood sample from the Boone County Medical Examiner’s office. It was a match.

Thanks to a growing awareness of the power of DNA and a 2004 state statute that requires many offenders to provide DNA samples, Missouri's DNA database — the State DNA Index System — has expanded greatly in the past several years, said Bill Marbaker, director of the state crime lab. The number of samples submitted to Missouri crime labs has increased tenfold since 2004, he said.

“In 2005 is when it really took off,” Marbaker said. In 2012, the state database included 253,152 DNA samples. 

The growth of the database has helped increase DNA matches from 30 to 40 per year in 2004 to the current rate of nearly a thousand per year, Marbaker said.

The 2004 statute requires everyone arrested for a felony, including burglaries, to provide a DNA sample for the state database. Registered sex offenders must also submit samples.

The Highway Patrol had problems with a backlog of cases until 2008, when it opened a new lab in Springfield that allowed it to handle more cases.

The lab takes about a year to process property crimes, Marbaker said. Expedited cases, such as homicides, take about 48 hours.

Marbaker said the lab stores DNA profiles even if the owners are unknown.

“It can stay in there for years,” Marbaker said. "Ten years from now, (the same person) may get arrested or convicted of a different crime for which he has to give a DNA sample."

Law enforcement agencies have become more open to using DNA analysis in investigations, Marbaker said. In the past five years, the number of requests for DNA analysis using the state database has increased about 80 percent, he said.

In the case of Timothy Hoag, the database wasn’t needed — the examiner compared the samples side by side and saw a match.

If Hoag had been alive when he was identified as a suspect, police might have obtained a DNA sample from him using a cheek swab, said MU police Capt. Brian Weimer. They sometimes use that technique to collect DNA from suspects, victims and witnesses.

Weimer said MU police routinely send physical evidence to labs to be tested for DNA, fingerprints and other clues.

"About anything could contain DNA on it," Weimer said.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.


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