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Queens DA asks state for special DNA testing to catch killer of jogger Karina Vetrano

Posted: 8:07 PM, Dec 08, 2016
Updated: 2016-12-08 20:07:45-05

QUEENS — Her case was one of the most stunningly brutal murders of 2016.

Karina Vetrano, 30, was toned and dressed in her running gear when she entered Spring Creek Park in Howard Beach on Aug. 2.

She jogged into the area known as The Weeds about 5:30 p.m., according to surveillance footage secured from near the scene.

Hours later, a cellphone ping led Vetrano’s father and police investigators to her battered body, about 15 feet off the running path. Vetrano had been beaten so badly that her teeth were knocked out.

Now, more than four months after the vicious rape and murder, the Queens District Attorney has sent a letter to the New York State Commissioner of Criminal Justice Services, asking that a special type of DNA testing be performed to give detectives a better chance of solving the case.

Back in August, a male DNA sample was retrieved from Vetrano’s cell phone, her neck, and from under her fingernails. A DNA profile was made, but there were no matches on the national CODIS database. Nothing on the state database, either.

The District Attorney wants a state forensic lab to do something called “familial searching.” It would essentially look for male relatives of the unknown killer.

As Brown explained in his letter, “The process requires special DNA testing performed on the Y chromosome, which is paternally inherited, and which can produce common male profiles in a paternal lineage — for example, father, uncle, brother or son — and is a biological match to the culprit’s Y chromosome profile."

New York State does not currently do familial DNA searching, but Brown pointed out nine other states do: California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

In 2010, in California, a son’s DNA led police to solve a 20-year mystery: Who was the serial killer who left 11 victims dead in the Los Angeles area? The DNA brought them to Lonnie Franklin, Jr.

Here in New York, a brother’s DNA posted on a state database helped police make a cold case arrest in two, unsolved murders from the early 1990s.

A Long Island carpenter, John Bittrolff — who was a married father of two — was arrested in July 2014 and charged with the murders of 31-year-old Rita Tangredi, whose body was discovered in late 1993 — and 20-year-old Colleen McNamee, who was found in January 1994.
Both women were sex workers and their bodies were posed in similar, unique positions. A third murder victim was also linked to Bittrolff.

It turned out that Bittrolff’s brother, Timothy, had gone to prison for criminal contempt, and he was required to provide a DNA sample.
In something of a fluke, a “hit or miss” type of match happened on the database: Tim Bittrolff’s DNA was very similar to the sample from the unsolved murders dating back 22 years.

When John Bittrolff’s DNA was secured, forensic experts said it was a match with the two, crime scene samples.

Now, District Attorney Brown wants the state to use familial searching in the Karina Vetrano case.

As DA Brown wrote in his letter, “This tragic murder has been exhaustively investigated using every tool currently available, but it remains unsolved. The killer remains at large, the public remains in danger, and the suffering of the victim’s family is amplified by law enforcement’s inability to yet solve this most awful crime.” The District Attorney’s letter noted the extent of Vetrano’s suffering, before she died, “Her clothes had been moved, leaving her body exposed. She had been badly beaten and suffered blunt force trauma to the head. An autopsy later determined that she had been strangled to death and found that she had sustained traumatic injuries to her genitals and anus.”

It was a vicious murder, and now the District Attorney is hoping a different type of forensic testing can help move Karina Vetrano’s unsolved case forward.

Thursday evening, Janine Kava — spokeswoman for the New York State Commission on Forensic Science — told PIX11 that members of the Commission would be holding a meeting Friday to discuss DA Brown's request in the Vetrano case. She issued the following statement:

“The Commission on Forensic Science is constantly evaluating scientific techniques to better assist law enforcement and obtain justice for victims. The Commission is planning to discuss familial DNA searching at tomorrow’s meeting, and looks forward to soliciting feedback from the public and all stakeholders on this important issue. The Commission will continue to work closely with our partners in local law enforcement to provide them the most cutting-edge tools they need to investigate and solve crimes, without compromising individual protections.”