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Expansion of DNA database could help catch Delphi teens’ killer

April 19, 2018

A broader DNA database is helping police find suspects to unsolved crimes. Perhaps soon it might mean finding the man who killed Delphi teens Libby German and Abby Williams.

Indiana law prescribing the collection of DNA changed Jan. 1, expanding the DNA samplings to include anyone accused of a felony. Before the new law took effect, Indiana only collected DNA — a genetic fingerprint unique to each individual — if a person was convicted.

Fourteen months after Libby and Abby’s killer forced the teenage girls off of the trails east of town and killed them along the banks of Deer Creek, the man responsible remains a mystery.

Police have his voice, and they have photographs of him, thanks to Libby's quick-thinking plan to activate her phone’s recording features. They also have a sketch of what he looks like based on witnesses who spotted the stranger in town that day — Feb. 13, 2017.

But if the detectives have the killer’s DNA — a point that investigators have been cagey about admitting or denying — the broader DNA database might flag him.

“This will open the doors to cases we have DNA from but don’t have a suspect,” Indiana State Police Sgt. Kim Riley said Tuesday when asked about the expanded index system.

Riley continued the investigation’s longstanding practice of not saying whether they had DNA in the case.

The broader database already has snared suspects in Indiana cases in 44 counties, according to Indiana State Police, who cited a recent DNA match to an unsolved rape in an Indiana county. The match came as a result of the new law. It also has ginned up 23 hits between Indiana and other states, according to a press release from the state police.

“We are very pleased with the results we’ve seen thus far and are confident more and more crimes will be solved with the combination of convicted and arrested persons’ samples being matched ...,” said Maj. Steve Holland, commander of the Indiana State Police Laboratory Division.

Carroll County Sheriff Tobe Leazenby said running any evidence they have against the broader DNA database is something investigators have not discussed, but it’s worth exploring.

The question is when to request the comparison since the new law creates an ever-expansive database. Do investigators run a comparison now or wait a few more months after more suspected felons have been  arrested, Leazenby rhetorically asked, thinking aloud during the interview.

Indiana State Police reported that 46 DNA “hits” have been attributed to samples from 3,330 new convicted offenders during the first three months of 2018, and 72 “hits” during that same time have been linked to cases from samples taken by jail officers of felony suspects.

Meanwhile, Leazenby and Riley said tips about the case continue to come in, and investigators continue to chase down those leads.

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