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
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.
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.
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.