SACRAMENTO (AP) — A judge ruled Thursday that authorities can collect DNA, fingerprints and body photos of the man suspected of being California’s Golden State Killer.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Sweet ruled in favor of prosecutors after Public Defender Diane Howard had filed a motion to stop the evidence collection. He had argued in his motion that the search warrant should be stopped because it was approved before DeAngelo was arrested and arraigned last week.
Prosecutors argued that the search warrant was still relevant and said collecting the evidence won’t be “testimonial in nature.”
Joseph DeAngelo, 72, appeared at the Thursday hearing in an orange jumpsuit, handcuffed to a wheelchair. He did not speak during the short proceeding and has yet to entered a plea.
Investigators arrested DeAngelo after matching crime-scene DNA with genetic material stored in an online database by a distant relative. They relied on a different website than in the Oregon search, and did not seek a warrant for his DNA. Instead, they waited for him to discard items and swabbed them for DNA, which proved a conclusive match to evidence from crimes more than 30 years ago, they said.
The co-founder of the genealogy website used by authorities to help identify DeAngelo said on Friday that he had no idea its database was tapped by law enforcement.
The free genealogy website, which pools DNA profiles that people upload and share publicly to find relatives, said it has always informed users its database can be used for other purposes.
But the site’s co-founder Curtis Rogers said the search was “done without our knowledge” and the company does not “hand out data.”
Officials did not need a court order to access GEDmatch ‘s large database of genetic blueprints, lead investigator Paul Holes told the Mercury News in San Jose, California. Major commercial DNA companies say they do not give law enforcement access to their genetic data without a court order.
But critics warned the method could jeopardize privacy rights.
“People who submit DNA for ancestors testing are unwittingly becoming genetic informants on their innocent family,” said Steve Mercer, chief attorney for the forensic division of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.
“It seems crazy to say a police officer investigating a very serious crime can’t do something your cousin can do,” said Erin Murphy, a DNA expert and professor at New York University School of Law. “If an ordinary person can do this, why can’t a cop? On the other hand, if an ordinary person had done this, we might think they shouldn’t.”
While most consumers would submit DNA to a commercial company such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe to create a genetic profile, the FBI did so for investigators, Holes told The New York Times.
The profile was then uploaded to GEDmatch using a fake profile and pseudonym, the Times reported. The site allows users to remain anonymous.
A year earlier, Holes had identified a rare genetic marker in the assailant’s DNA. He entered the information among 189,000 profiles at the genealogy website, YSearch.org, and the results led to a relative of the Oregon man.
A spokeswoman for YSearch.org, which is provided by FamilyTreeDNA.com, said the company was not contacted by law enforcement. The company said it takes the privacy of its customers very seriously but supports “ethically and legally justified uses” of scientific research in genetics and genealogy.
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