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DNA evidence making dent in midstate crime

When John Paul Battle Jr. entered prison in May 2008 on an aggravated assault charge, a sample of his DNA joined more than 186,150 samples in the state’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database.

The samples are compared to DNA evidence from unsolved crimes about twice a month, said Ted Staples, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s manager of forensic biology.

As a result, 1,415 Georgia cases have been solved using matches from the samples since the creation of the database in 1998, he said.

Last week, one of the matches linked Battle, 25, to the 2002 rape of a 35-year-old woman in her car near the intersection of Elm Street and Broadway Lane in Macon.

But authorities say the database doesn’t just help find leads in sexual assault cases.

Bibb County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sean Defoe said CODIS has helped deputies solve burglaries and robberies.

Most recently, the database returned a match between a 53-year-old Hawkinsville Road man accused of a Jan. 12 burglary off Allen Road and a cigarette butt left behind inside the house, Defoe said.

“He had smoked a cigarette and dropped the butt on the floor,” Defoe said.

While deputies arrested William Gerald Brock on March 3 as a result of the investigation, Defoe said investigators are using the CODIS match as another piece of evidence that Brock was inside the house.

Macon Police Capt. Jimmy Barbee said that while most CODIS matches the police receive are in sexual assault cases, he’s submitted evidence from two cold case murders in hopes of finding a lead.

Howard Glen Tickner, 25, was fatally stabbed at what was once a Quality Inn located at 2720 Riverside Drive on Nov. 14, 1980, Barbee said.

The case has become cold and Barbee said he has sent blood evidence to the GBI to go into the database.

“We’ll put that unknown blood sample into CODIS and cross our fingers that the person has been put in the system and we get a match,” Barbee said.

He said he also has submitted a sexual assault kit containing evidence from the June 26, 1989 killing of 16-year-old Valinda Williams at 389 First St.

Barbee said Williams was strangled and beaten to death.

FORMING A DATABASE

Staples said CODIS began as a FBI test program in the mid 1990s.

Authorities reasoned that “a DNA profile is a bunch of numbers and it should be possible to compare the DNA to evidence and offenders,” he said.

Congress then passed the DNA Identification Act that gave the federal government permission to keep a database of DNA from offenders and evidence.

It was left up to each state to decide which offenders would be required to submit DNA samples, Staples said.

In 1998 Georgia became the first state to form a state database of DNA from offenders and evidence, said Staples, who headed up the program.

To start, the database only included samples from people convicted as sex offenders from 1995 to 2000, he said.

In subsequent years, the database was expanded to include DNA from all convicted felons sent to prison or released on or after July 1, 2000, inmates sentenced to death, serving life sentences or extended sentences and people sentenced to felony probation for violent crimes, Staples said.

Samples in Georgia’s CODIS database are forwarded to the national FBI database, allowing law enforcement agencies from different states to compare samples, he said.

Prior to July 2000, inmates were required to submit blood samples. Now, cells are taken from inside a person’s cheek, he said.

Staples said the GBI is able to test evidence containing anything from blood, semen and saliva to DNA left behind on sunglasses and ball caps.

DNA from the evidence is automatically submitted into CODIS after being analyzed by the GBI during the normal process of crime solving. Agencies also can request evidence from cases older than CODIS to be included in the database, he said.

When a match is found in the database, Staples said analysts retrieve the original samples of DNA from the evidence and the offender to re-run the test.

After notifying law enforcement agencies of the match, investigators must then obtain a fresh DNA sample from the offender and submit it for a third comparison, he said.

Working as a manager, Staples said he misses making the phone calls to investigators to tell them the good news about a match being found.

“With some of them, you literally hear them hollering into the phone,” he said, adding he’s also heard investigators cry and run around telling their coworkers.

“You miss that gratification,” he said.

Information from The Telegraph’s Archives was included in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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