New Arrest Links Suspect in Database For Decade Old Murder Case

A person new to the criminal database in Utah was linked to a decade old murder case in West Valley City.

Cold case

Photo by: Tom Britt

In January of 2007 Tri Phan, the owner of a billiards hall in West Valley City Utah was found murdered inside his business. Detectives on the case canvassed the area for clues and spoke with witnesses but were unable to determine a suspect in the case. A key piece of evidence was a single bloody fingerprint that led them nowhere since it was not in their database yet.

New arrest, new entry in database

Several years after the murder, a man was arrested for an unrelated crime and his information along with his fingerprints was entered into the criminal database for the first time. 37 year old Tien Truong Nguyen was then connected to the murder after detectives linked the fingerprints obtained from when he was booked into jail with the single bloody fingerprint left at the crime scene over ten years earlier. Nguyen was arrested for first degree murder over a decade after the crime was committed.

National Crime Information Center

Photo by: CPOA

According to FBI.gov, “the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, has been called the lifeline of law enforcement – an electronic clearinghouse of crime data that can be tapped into by virtually every criminal justice agency nationwide, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.” They also state that “By the end of 2015, NCIC contained 12 million active records in 21 files.” Those records consist of stolen items, missing persons, as well as criminal records.

Forensic evidence and technological advances

As technology continues to advance, so do forensics. With this comes more information added to the criminal database such as fingerprint analysis and DNA profiling which could lead to arrests in other cold cases. For more information on charges related to cold cases and other charges stemming from forensic evidence, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Wrongful Appropriation – Borrowing without Permission

If someone is found to be borrowing property that doesn’t belong to them and does it without the owner’s permission it is known as wrongful appropriation.

Wrongful appropriation

Wrongful Appropriation

Photo by: Victor

Utah code 76-6-404.5 defines wrongful appropriation as when a person “obtains or exercises unauthorized control over the property of another, without the consent of the owner or legal custodian and with intent to temporarily appropriate, possess, or use the property or to temporarily deprive the owner or legal custodian of possession of the property.”

Borrowing without permission or theft?

Wrongful appropriation may sound a lot like stealing however the keyword that sets it apart from theft is the word “temporarily”. Although many cases of taking another’s belongings is done with the intent of never returning said property, occasionally the person accused of stealing can prove that their intention was to simply borrow the property on a temporary basis. When a person has been determined to not be permanently trying to deprive someone of their property but borrowing property without permission instead, Utah Code 76-6-404.5 states this crime to be “punishable one degree lower than theft.”

Wrongful Appropriation

Photo by: William Murphy

Examples of wrongful appropriation

Borrowing an item without permission may be hard to prove, but there are instances where the temporary intent may be more apparent such as:

• Borrowing a vehicle to quickly run an errand,

• Taking yard care equipment to use temporarily,

• Taking someone’s property as a practical joke, or

• Deviating from an assigned route in a government vehicle for personal motives.

Proving non consent

Sometimes when an item is borrow and relationships between the two parties go sour, the individual loaning the property, in an attempt to stir up trouble, may claim to have not given permission to the other. Having proof of the loan agreement would help protect the borrowing party from being unfairly charged with wrongful appropriation. Unless performed by a business however, a borrower’s agreement isn’t likely; for this reason it is recommended to seek counsel from a defense attorney for any charges of wrongful appropriation, whether true or not.

Family Member’s DNA Used to Track down Murder Suspect

A family member’s DNA was used to track down the suspect of a murder case that took place in Tooele, Utah in 2011.

Beaten with a hammer

Photo by: Alan Cleaver

Photo by: Alan Cleaver

On October 7, 2011 the body of 69 year old Evelynne Derricott was found in her Tooele, Utah home. State medical examiners determined the cause of death to be repeated blows to the head with a hammer. Investigators on the case believed the widow was attacked after she surprised a burglar when she returned home.

No Match for DNA

Authorities were able to locate the blood of someone other than Derricott on the handle of the murder weapon along with a sample from the same person inside Derricott’s vehicle which was located in a nearby neighborhood. The DNA was determined to be that of a male, yet it was not in the system; leaving investigators with no suspects.

Familial DNA

After pursuing all other leads, police were determined to not let the case become cold and ordered a pricey test to check for familial DNA.  According to the FBI, “familial searching is a deliberate search of a DNA database conducted for the intended purpose of potentially identifying close biological relatives to the unknown forensic profile obtained from crime scene evidence. ( . . . ) first-order relatives, such as siblings or parent/child relationships, will have more genetic data in common than unrelated individuals.” It is determined that nearly half of all new offenders have a close family member who is already in the criminal database. Once an immediate family member’s DNA is entered in the system after being convicted of a class A misdemeanor or felony, other close family can be located by identifying similarities in their genetic makeup.

Match found

DNA

Photo by: AJC ajcann.wordpress.com

After running a familial DNA test on the blood found on the hammer and vehicle in the murder of Evelynne Derricott, authorities discovered a match and were able to trace the family ties to 23 year old Rogelio Diaz Jr. of West Valley City, Utah. Diaz has not previously been convicted of a charge high enough to have him entered into the criminal database, but a sibling or a parent had. Nearly five years after Derricott was killed, authorities finally had their number one suspect. Diaz is now facing first degree felony murder, first degree felony aggravated burglary, and second degree felony theft.

Problems with familial DNA

There are some issues that arise when using familial DNA. The first is the cost associated with the testing which typically runs over $5,000 per test. This is a hefty amount for the state to spend on a test that isn’t guaranteed to work. This brings up another problem with familial DNA: there is a 50/50 chance of finding a familial match. Additionally, familial DNA tests cannot even be an option unless there is a significant amount of sample available to run a series of tests. For these reasons, familial DNA is usually used only as a last resort and primarily for violent cases where the public might still be at risk of harm.

Volunteered or court ordered

If a familial match links to someone on investigator’s radar, the Fourth Amendment protects said person from having to volunteer a DNA match unless they have been court ordered to do so. A judge will not order a DNA test on a suspect unless there is enough probable cause to link that suspect to the case. Many individuals fail to realize that although they must be cooperative with law enforcement, they are not required to give up evidence that could implicate themselves. Of course, leaving DNA in a public place is considered voluntarily, which was the case with Diaz who left his finished drink in a public trash can. Anyone being questioned by law enforcement or facing criminal charges is encouraged to receive counsel from a criminal defense attorney that understand their constitutional rights, and will protect them from illegal searches and seizures of property including their DNA.