STORY" "The Troubling case of Emanuel Fair," by Lael Henterly, published by Seattle Weekly on January 11, 2017.
SUB-HEADING: "In a grisly murder case, the defense wants to know if the DNA evidence is reliable. They’ll never find out."
GIST: "It was her first Halloween at the Valley View apartments in Redmond, and Arpana Jinaga was eager to celebrate. It was 2008, and Jinaga, an accomplished software developer, had recently moved to the area to work at a technology company. She decked out her apartment in Halloween decor and donned a red cape purchased earlier that day in anticipation of an evening spent with her neighbors. The small, three-story complex was filled with revelers that night. Costumed residents and guests milled from one unit to the next, laughing, drinking, and admiring each other’s costumes. A gregarious and gracious host, Jinaga welcomed several of her neighbors and their guests into her apartment, where they conversed and mingled before moving on to her neighbor’s apartment, where the group partook of vodka shots. By 3 a.m., the festivities were winding down. Jinaga said goodbye to the remaining guests and headed back to her apartment. That weekend Jinaga didn’t leave her apartment or contact any of her friends or family. By Monday morning her parents, far away in India, had grown worried. Jinaga’s father asked Jay, a family friend also living in the area, to stop by and check on his daughter. The door to her apartment swung open with a knock and, joined by one of Jinaga’s neighbors, Jay ventured in. The men stepped cautiously into the apartment, and immediately smelled bleach. In the bathroom a blood-stained comforter filled the bathtub; in the bedroom, charred black satin sheets; and there, sprawled on the carpet beside her bed, was the 24-year-old programmer, bloody, naked, and soaked in bleach and motor oil. Officers from the Redmond police department responded and quickly locked down the scene. The police collected samples from hundreds of items at the crime scene that could hold traces of the killer’s DNA and sent them to the state crime lab for analysis. Meanwhile, Redmond detectives began trying to whittle down the list of suspects, which initially included a number of guests from the Halloween party. Two years after the killing, the arduous investigation culminated in a charge of murder in the first degree with sexual motivation against Emanuel Fair, a friend of a woman who lived downstairs from Jinaga. Fair, who is also known as Anthony P. Parker, was at the Valley View apartments that night, one of a group of revelers who spent time with Jinaga in her apartment. Investigators believe that sometime between 3 a.m. and 8 p.m., Fair broke down Jinaga’s door, raped, beat, and strangled her, then went to great lengths to try to scrub his DNA from the scene. Whoever went to those great lengths, genetic material was left behind. Investigators were drawn to Fair because of a criminal history that includes a third-degree rape conviction, but it is the DNA that stands as the prosecution’s strongest evidence. Justice has not been swift. Six years after charges were filed, Fair, now 33, spends his days shuffling between the King County Superior Court and the county jail while his two defense attorneys fight for a fair trial, a representative jury, and the opportunity to cross-examine key witnesses. The trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 13, 2017, with prosecutors seeking a sentence of 45 years to life. Pretrial motions filed by Fair’s attorneys indicate that he received treatment different from that given other suspects at each step of the investigation. There is some merit to these claims. According to interrogation transcripts, for instance, the Redmond detectives cajoled the other chief suspect in the case, whereas they threatened Fair. Then there is the DNA. In recent decades, DNA evidence has become a ubiquitous crime-solving tool. The gold standard of forensic science, genetic profiles inferred from DNA evidence pave the way to exonerations, confessions, and convictions both on- and offscreen. But while single-donor DNA samples are straightforward to analyze, degraded samples that contain multiple people’s DNA—such as those found at the scene of Jinaga’s murder—are far more difficult to nail down. In fact, the DNA evidence that investigators are relying upon is of such low quality that a few years ago it would have been considered unreadable. The case against Fair hinges on the forensic evidence, some matched by humans to a genetic profile, and some more complex mixtures analyzed by TrueAllele, a probabilistic genotyping software program that relies on sophisticated algorithms to analyze DNA mixtures that humans can’t. The program runs genetic data through its 170,000 lines of code, rapidly inferring DNA profiles and delivering a likelihood ratio that indicates the odds of a match. Mark Perlin, CEO of Cybergenetics, the private company that developed TrueAllele, says the software is capable of analyzing mixture samples with six or more contributors. Only some of the more complex mixtures of DNA were sent to the Cybergenetics lab. The match statistics delivered by the software were far more definite than the numbers the state crime lab had generated when they analyzed the same samples. For example, the WSPCL found that a DNA mixture on Jinaga’s robe was 1,000 time more likely to contain Fair’s DNA than that of an unrelated African American. TrueAllele found that same sample to be 56.8 million times more likely to include Fair’s DNA. Fair’s defense attorneys sought access to TrueAllele’s 170,000 lines of source code from Cybergenetics, but Perlin refused to make the code to his proprietary software available. Revealing TrueAllele’s code, even just for review, Perlin told the court, would compromise the company’s trade secrets, potentially causing irreversible commercial damage. Fair isn’t the first defendant to question Cybergenetics’ computer program—defendants in six other states have petitioned unsuccessfully for access to their algorithmic accuser’s code. Last year a man in New York was sentenced to 15 years in prison after the software found him to be one of four, five, or six individuals who had handled a handgun recovered in a park. This is the first challenge of this type in Washington; previously, TrueAllele has been used only to exonerate, not convict. Perlin says that overall, TrueAllele has been used in 500 criminal cases since 2009. DNA evidence carries a lot of weight with juries, but experts say that mixture DNA is far less reliable than DNA from a single donor. Most of our genetic code is identical, but in some spots on each strand there are alleles—variations that differ from one person to another. To determine a DNA match, investigators compare a DNA strand’s 16 alleles; by the standards in most labs, 13 makes a match. The system is not without its flaws. In 2010 researchers Greg Hampikian and Itiel Dror gave 17 expert forensic scientists the same DNA mixture and found that the results varied wildly from one scientist to the next. Those who were given information about the criminal case the DNA evidence would be used in were more likely to find evidence that implicated suspects. Dror, a cognitive neuroscientist who worked on the study, says that it’s a mistake to think that probabilistic genotyping software is able to objectively analyze DNA mixtures. Like a human, he says, the software has to make assumptions about what is and isn’t useful information. With TrueAllele, no one but Perlin knows what those assumptions are. “Using software doesn’t solve the problem, because the human biases, assumptions, and discretions go into the software,” says Dror. “The software has human biases; to see what the biases are, we need to look at the software to see what it’s doing.”..........“The biggest issue is there is no truly independent assessment of TrueAllele or other programs,” says Amy Jeanguenat, CEO of the forensic consulting firm Mindgen. “They don’t work the same, and some are better at certain profiles and the community doesn’t know the benefits and weaknesses.” There were other leads. Marc O’Leary, a convicted serial rapist and home invader who is serving a 327-year sentence in Colorado, was active in the area at the time, attacking women in their homes in a manner eerily similar to that of Jinaga’s killer; the detectives didn’t look into the similarities. Serial killer Israel Keyes visited the Seattle area that Halloween weekend, but when the FBI asked Seattle-area law enforcement if they knew of crimes that could have been committed by Keyes, the Redmond detectives didn’t respond. Then there is the neighbor."
The entire story can be found at:
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/