West Law Report

DNA and bodiless homicides

Posted in Murder by mrkooenglish on June 29, 2008

Tad Dibiase shares experience about DNA test for “bodiless homicides” conviction:

Consider the case I tried in 2006. In the summer of 2003, Marion Fye, a 36-year-old mother of five, started dating a newly released felon named Harold Austin. Within a month, he had moved into her home and assumed the role of father to her children. A day or two after Thanksgiving that year, Austin and Fye got into an argument, and Austin allegedly shot and killed her. Although three of her children were in the house at the time, none of them witnessed the murder. Her body has never been found.

As in so many similar cases, forensic evidence tripped up the killer. Shortly after Fye’s disappearance, the police discovered a blood-soaked mattress in the room she had shared with Austin. Without a sample of Fye’s DNA, they thought they couldn’t prove that the blood was hers. But the relatively new science of examining mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child, came to the rescue. By collecting DNA from Fye’s mother, the FBI was able to conclude that the blood on the mattress belonged to a female descendant of hers. Fye had three living sisters, all of whom testified that the blood couldn’t have been theirs. That was good enough for the jury, even though an exact DNA match was not possible.

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