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DNA can make a big difference

DNA evidence can be a powerful tool for investigators who are looking to solve crimes, and technology advances in recent years are helping just as much, if not more. Late last year, Rosemount police were able to solve a three-year-old burglary, based on DNA found on a popsicle package.

Back in the late summer of 2009, Rosemount police received the report of a burglary. It was a first degree burglary, which meant the individuals involved had entered an occupied residence. In this case, detective John Winters said, they entered an open door on an attached garage.

They rummaged around the garage, dug through the car and eventually found some popsicles in a freezer in the garage. The individuals took some of the popsicles with them when they left, and apparently dropped the empty wrappers as they walked through the neighborhood.

"We had some very observant officers that morning who took the initial report, and grabbed the freezie pop packages as evidence," Winters said.

Rosemount police collected DNA evidence from the wrappers, then forwarded it to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for analysis.

Every time the BCA receives DNA, it's entered into the state's database, where a DNA profile is developed. It is typical for police to submit DNA of an unknown individual in hopes of finding an existing profile they can compare the DNA sample against.

In 2009, the BCA did not find a match.

Since then, thousands of DNA profiles have been added to the BCA's database. It is mandatory that people charged with felonies have their DNA added to the database, and sometimes, Winters said, the BCA resubmits some of its old DNA samples just to see if there is a match in the updated system.

Last year, there was.

"The statute of limitation for burglaries is three years," Winters said. "We got that information back, and we had eight days to get a charge on that."

Eight days before the statute of limitations was up, police had a name, but they had to get a fresh DNA sample from the suspect. Winters got a search warrant. Police located the suspect, took the new sample and forwarded it to the BCA for confirmation.

At the same time, the Dakota County attorney's office felt the DNA evidence was sufficient to charge the individual, and the suspect was charged under the three-year statute of limitations.

"That was really a case that sticks out," Winters said. "In 2009, DNA technology was around, but that was really when (the crime scene team), was in its infant stages."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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