AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - Analysts at the Maine Crime Lab recently had a very good month matching DNA found at crime scenes to potential suspects.
They did it using something called CODIS, Combined DNA Indexing System. It allows them to match DNA samples with a data base of people implicated in other crimes in Maine and across the country.
In May it helped match potential suspects to 18 crimes. Everything from arson to kidnapping to sexual assault.
Cathy MacMillan spends her days in the crime lab producing DNA profiles from evidence gathered at crimes scenes and comparing them to the data base.
“Anything left at a crime scene, that does not match the victim, can be uploaded into that index”, she said.
Once the hard work of analyzing evidence in the lab is done, the DNA comes down to a number.
“Essentially I’m comparing a series of numbers and if all those numbers match up, we have a potential hit”, said MacMillan.
New technology is helping investigators solve crimes. CODIS has been a game changer. It is perhaps the most important tool in this lab.
“With CODIS, it’s searching the entire country all the time once you have this unidentified profile and it’s solving cases on a very regular basis”, said the lab's director Lt. William Harwood.
Twice a week analysts here check new DNA profiles with the 32,000 on file in Maine and the 13 million across the country. Each month they get between 5 and 20 hits.
CODIS was instrumental in helping solve two cold homicide cases, linking Michael Hutchinson to the 1994 murder of Crystal Perry and Thomas Mitchell to the 1983 murder of Judy Flagg.
“Having seen that come through, that was pretty amazing”, said MacMillan.
CODIS hits don’t always solve cases, but they do place a person at the scene of a crime.
“And that’s extremely powerful information when you’re doing an interview and working on a case”, said Lt. Harwood.
About 30 states allow DNA samples to be taken from people arrested. That’s not the case in Maine. Samples can be taken only from people convicted of crimes. If that changes and Maine joins those other states, it could lead to lead to more crimes being solved.