New DNA tools and technology help investigators solve decades-old crimes

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A more than 30-year-old murder was solved after police say DNA led them to the man who killed an 8-year-old girl.

Police in Fort Wayne announced the arrest of John Miller. Investigators said he killed April Tinsley in 1988. Court records show a private company was contacted to conduct genetic DNA testing. Results showed a match to Miller and his brother.

“Anytime law enforcement investigates a case, they use as they say, every tool in the toolbox and I think it’s become pretty clear in general that DNA in all shapes and forms is a tool in the toolbox,” said Allen County Prosecuting Attorney Karen Richards.

ISP Crime Lab Biology Section Supervisor Paul Misner has been working in the lab for more than 30 years. He said technology that exists now, like genealogy testing, didn’t exist during the time Tinsley was killed.

“That was in the pre-DNA era as far as forensic science goes,” Misner said.

In the last 30 years, DNA technology and tools have improved to help solve other cases where DNA is prime evidence. One tool that has significantly helped investigators is a DNA copying system.

“You may be limited to a very small amount in the crime scene samples, but after copying it, you now have enough sample to do additional tests that you couldn’t do before,” Misner explained.

Court records show for Tinsley’s case, investigators contacted a private outside company to do genealogical testing. In the state police crime lab, technology to cross reference genealogical DNA isn’t available.

Misner said it’s a relatively new tool. He also said the types of DNA that genealogy companies test are different from DNA that investigators use for forensic evidence. He said comparing the two is like “comparing apples to oranges.”

Before state police could receive a tool that could cross DNA for forensics with genealogy DNA, Misner said there would have to be many policies and procedures put in place. He said there would have to be assurance that it could be held up in court.

Misner said there are also other forms of DNA technology coming out that would broaden a physical profile. Right now, DNA can show hair color, eye color, and race.

He also said the new technology is so advanced it would show physical facial aspects like how far apart someones eyes are or unique hairlines like a widows peak.

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