DENVER — If the attorney for JonBenet Ramsey’s family is right, the murder of the 6-year-old beauty queen could be solved by some faceless crime lab technician.
A male DNA sample that was found on JonBenet’s underwear was submitted recently to an FBI database, said attorney Lin Wood, who called it a “dramatic development” that could clear John and Patsy Ramsey.
But experts are not so optimistic.
A suspect will be found from the DNA database only if he had been required to submit a DNA sample after being convicted of a violent felony, said Zack Gaskin, technical director of forensics for DNAPrint Genomics of Sarasota, Fla.
There was no immediate match, but Wood said new samples from criminals and crime scenes around the country are added daily.
There is also a national backlog in DNA testing that could further hinder the investigation.
“One of the issues that’s crippling the country is we have a lot of registered offender samples that are either owed to certain agencies or you have a bunch that are collected that haven’t been put into the database yet,” Gaskin said. “The problem there is that crime labs around the country are inundated with work.”
FBI officials declined to comment on the size of the backlog, but the agency in 2000 said some 500,000 DNA samples were awaiting submission from crime labs around the country.
As of October, the latest information available, the FBI-managed database contained 66,714 DNA profiles from evidence collected at crime scenes and more than 1.4 million DNA profiles of people convicted of violent crimes.
The database has helped solve more than 10,000 cases since it became operational in 1998, the FBI said.
“It’s amazing what they can do with DNA these days and these databases are still relatively new,” said attorney Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor who has followed the Ramsey case. “Absent a DNA hit or a confession, it would be very tough to convict anybody for this horrific crime.”
JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in the basement of her Boulder home on Dec. 26, 1996, and the case soon became a tabloid sensation. A cloud of suspicion surrounded the girl’s parents, who insisted the crime was committed by an intruder.
A grand jury investigation ended without charges in 1999, but the case got new life this year when District Attorney Mary Keenan took over the case from police.
Test results in 1997 and 1999 were not of high-enough quality to submit to the database, but a new DNA profile was worked up and submitted last month, Wood said.
Keenan would say only that DNA information in the case has been sent to the database. Wood was more specific: The test results are from DNA from a male unrelated to the Ramseys that was found intermingled with JonBenet’s blood in her underwear.
“I think that it is in all probability, if not almost undisputedly, from the killer,” Wood said. “I think that when you get a match of the DNA in her blood, you will have identified her killer.”