Inside the Capitol

Sunday, April 17, 2005

4-27 The Latest Craze

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE - The world's love affair with DNA grabbed international attention again last week when a Cape Cod murder case apparently was solved.

Three years ago a beautiful fashion writer was mysteriously raped and murdered at her home. DNA samples were taken from various men who had come in casual contact with her. The murderer wasn't found so the district attorney decided to have every man in the small resort town tested.

More than 175 tests later a match was found. It was one of the original men tested, the garbage man. The laboratory was backed up with requests for DNA analysis and it had just gotten around to testing the last of that original group.

Needless to say, there were around 175 men in the town who were, to put it mildly, hacked. The ACLU hadn't thought much of the idea from the beginning because of the civil liberties implications.

Family and friends of the single mother weren't pleased either. Testing every man in town to see who matched the semen sample found on the victim made her appear promiscuous, to say the least.

But most of the townspeople had thought it a pretty good idea at the time, even the men being tested. After all, DNA was magic. There was a killer on the loose and everyone wanted to find him.

So how come it took law enforcement so long to find its man? Well, he moved often so it was hard to track him down. And once the sample was obtained, everyone knows labs are terribly backed up with DNA samples.

And why are labs so busy? From news reports, it appears most prosecutors must agree with the one in this case that juries demand DNA evidence. They watch those CSI programs on TV and know that DNA is what solves crimes.

It seems that nearly everyone in law enforcement agrees that good detectives solve crimes much better than forensic scientists do. But that's not the public perception.

It's been a long time since gumshoe Joe Friday trudged door-to-door asking questions. It made for pretty good entertainment back then, but not in this age. People like chase scenes and crime labs.

So everyone wants a DNA match before they'll vote to convict. The district attorney says he has no regrets about the process.

It's little wonder, then, that most of the world thought that finding some 125-year-old DNA in last year's Billy the Kid case would solve everything. It didn't matter whose it was, where it was found or how it was found. If we had some DNA, we'd know where Billy is buried, who shot him, and how he escaped from the Lincoln County Courthouse.

It ended up being some first-rate historians and forensic scientists, the state Office of the Medical Examiner, most of the townspeople in Silver City and Fort Sumner and me against the rest of the world on the subject of DNA's invincibility.

And the search for Billy's DNA may not be over even though the digging in Fort Sumner was stopped in court.

* * *

Another fad about which the public seems very poorly informed concerns what those nice folks with the Powerball lottery did for us. They're going to make the prizes bigger and it won't cost a bit more to play.

It recently was announced that there will be many more of those $100 million jackpots. When jackpots hit that figure, people rush out to buy lottery tickets in huge numbers.

A little guy like me would be real happy to win a $10 million jackpot, but it seems most people don't care that much about just being rich. They want to be filthy rich.

And why is it that the jackpots will be bigger? It's because they'll be harder to win. Simply by adding two more numbers to the long list of choices, the odds increase from 120 million-to-1 to 145 million-to-1.

Such a deal.

WED, 4-27-05

3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982


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