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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kamala Harris Touts Use of Familial DNA Testing in Santa Cruz Sex Crime Arrest

Posted By on Tue, Mar 15, 2011 at 2:30 PM

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A controversial form of DNA testing is back in the limelight as law-enforcement officials praise its use in the investigation into an attack on a barista in Santa Cruz.

Elvis Garcia, 21, was arrested Friday on charges of sexual assault, robbery, and false imprisonment. He is being held on $1 million bail. Garcia was arrested after state forensics officials, working with the Santa Cruz Police Department, used familial DNA testing to identify him.

It is the first successful use of the controversial forensic method since the arrest of the Grim Sleeper serial killer in Los Angeles last year.

"Santa Cruz police and prosecutors contributed their exceptional and dogged investigative skills, and the Attorney General's forensic scientists contributed their state-of-the-art expertise in tracking down suspects using familial DNA," Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement.

Familial DNA testing involves trying to match crime-scene DNA against a wider

range of close -- but not exact -- biological profiles in the state's database of convicted criminals' DNA. Matches with a suspect's close

relatives, if they are present in the database, can provide police

with a lead.

In the Grim Sleeper case, suspect Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was caught through a hit with his son's DNA. In Garcia's case, a match was made through his father. Police say Garcia sexually assaulted a barista at The Kind Grind coffee shop in Santa Cruz, then barricaded her in a refrigerator.

Familial DNA is controversial in light of what civil-liberties advocates say is its potential for false matches. California was the first state to adopt the method, in 2008, and it is still governed by strict regulations -- it is only used for violent crimes in which the offender is believed to be at large and dangerous.

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