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How familial DNA helped solve the Wendy Jerome case

Emily Putnam
Created: October 01, 2020 06:24 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — News10NBC has been following the Wendy Jerome murder case as part of our Inside the Evidence series for over a year. Until recently, the case had been cold for 36 years. Familial DNA testing is ultimately what lead the Rochester Police Department to suspect Timothy Williams.

According to New York State Police Crime Lab Director Ray Wickenheiser, the process of testing for familial DNA is cumbersome, and it’s not used all the time. 

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"We're not going to do that amount of work on minor cases. So these are really for major cases, for major cold cases," Wickenheiser said. 

Here’s how the process of familial DNA testing works: first, the investigating agency—in Wendy’s case, the RPD—has to submit a request and a viable DNA sample to the New York State Crime Lab. Then, the New York State Commission on Forensic Science processes that application and sends an approval to the lab. The state crime lab then tries to find a DNA match in its system.

"Much of the time we do -- roughly 40%. But that means a good chunk of the time we do not. So, the person who committed the crime didn't commit another offense and they didn't go into the data bank," Wickenheiser said.

That’s where familial DNA testing comes in. The crime lab uses an algorithm to compare people in the data bank to the sample received from the crime scene. That’s where they can find similarities between the sample, and possible relatives. 

Wendy Jerome’s case was the first in New York State in which an arrest was successfully made from a lead found using familial DNA testing. But in Wendy’s case, RPD sent the initial DNA application and sample in November 2017. They didn’t receive results until more than two and a half years later, in July 2020. 

The commission oversees the administrative aspect of the process. Once it’s determined whether or not a DNA sample meets criteria, the New York State Crime Lab processes the sample. In Wendy’s case, after submitting a second sample, police finally found a match. Suspect Timothy Williams will be arraigned tomorrow. 

Click here for the original Inside the Evidence piece on Wendy Jerome.


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