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DNA evidence helps thaw cold cases, some more than 35 years old

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Posted: Friday, June 27, 2003 10:00 pm

Though it sometimes takes years to go through a cold case and solve it, cold cases do not always stay cold forever. As DNA testing is becoming more widespread, it is both solving old killings and clearing those wrongly convicted of murder.

• Earlier this month, a man was released from Mule Creek State Prison after serving 12 years for a murder he didn't commit. A San Francisco attorney spent four years researching the case, interviewing old witnesses and finding DNA that matched a different suspect.

• A Sacramento man was arrested June 4 after detectives reopened a 1982 case in which a Vacaville woman was found stabbed to death in her home. Detectives found DNA on evidence from the crime scene, and tests matched it with the suspect whose DNA was on file for an unrelated crime.

• On June 4, a jury found a man guilty of murder in a 1972 Fresno killing. The case had gone unsolved until 2000, when an informant went to police with more information.

• In May, a New Jersey man was arrested in connection with a 1982 murder case. Police never had enough evidence to prosecute him, but last year they were able to extract a DNA profile from the victim's remains. They mailed the suspect a phony letter saying he could be part of a class-action lawsuit, he licked the self-addressed return envelope and officials used the DNA in his saliva to match it to the victim's remains.

• Also in May, a Klamath Falls, Ore., a man was arrested and charged with killing a fellow Los Gatos High School student in 1982. Officials had thought the student was a runaway until remains were found in 1995. When DNA testing confirmed the identity earlier this year, other witnesses then came forward.

• A retired Los Angeles homicide detective recently published a book in May titled "Black Dahlia Avenger," in which he detailed his conclusion that the city's oldest homicide had been committed by his own father. The 1947 murder was never solved, and the detective's father died in 1999.

• In April, a Reno man was arrested in connection with the 1981 San Jose stabbing death of killed an 18-year-old man. The case had gone unsolved until it was reopened last summer and detectives were able to find and interview more witnesses.

• In March, DNA matched a Texas inmate to a 1981 shooting that killed a mother and her 5-year-old son. At the time, DNA testing did not exist, and processes being used in 1989 would have destroyed evidence. Newer DNA testing technology did not destroy the evidence, and the inmate has been charged in the double homicide.

• In October, DNA linked an Arkansas trucker to a 1965 El Cajon case in which a man was murdered and his wife was assaulted, requiring her to use a wheelchair until she died in 1979. The suspect pleaded guilty in March, and he was sentenced in April to life in prison.

• In April, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department announced that a Mexican national had been sentenced in Mexico to 25 years in prison in connection with a 1979 homicide. After allegedly shooting his estranged wife, the suspect hid in Mexico until authorities in that country arrested him in May 2001.

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