AMERICAN FORK -- Another test, another result.
Janet Johnson's attorney says new DNA tests conducted with the remains of a stillborn child she buried 24 years ago support original findings that the boy is not likely hers.The parentage of William Edward Colton, allegedly stillborn at Cottonwood Hospital April 20, 1975, has been in question for more than a year since Johnson had his body exhumed and DNA tests conducted. The original results indicated Johnson was not the mother.
A 10-month investigation by Murray police first concluded that the baby was in fact the child of another woman, who had given birth to a healthy girl within hours of Johnson's delivery. Police theorized the woman had given birth to twins but had never been told.
However, when subsequent tests conducted by labs in Philadelphia and Virginia produced results that said Johnson could not be ruled out as the baby's mother, police concluded the child was indeed Johnson's and closed the case.
Johnson is suing Cottonwood Hospital and believes there may have been some kind of conspiracy to either sell, adopt or kill the baby.
This week's findings -- the fourth series of DNA tests -- come after two rounds of new tests by LabCorp, the North Carolinia-based testing lab Johnson hired to conduct the tests, said her attorney, Allen Young of Springville.
LabCorp used one set of bone fragments from the child's remains to conduct a fresh test and also re-tested the same set of bones it used in initial testing last year, Young said. The fresh test yielded a "no result" outcome, Young said.
"I don't understand DNA well enough, but (LabCorp) said that with 'ancient bones' it is sometimes difficult to get a specimen that will give them a result," he said. "But they have retested the old samples several more times, and they are standing by their results."
Young has retained an independent DNA expert to help him sort out the results. Hopefully, the expert will also be able to explain why labs in Virginia and Philadelphia produced test results that said Johnson could not be ruled out as the child's mother.
In the meantime, he said, the suit against the hospital will move forward.
State medical examiner Dr. Todd Grey said that numerous factors can affect the outcome of a DNA test -- among them the age of the remains and the method of sample collection -- and that it is possible to have a "no result" if the DNA in a sample has significantly deteriorated.
"I've had one other case where we had a small amount of material to work with and the lab said they could not extract usable DNA," Grey said. "You don't need to have a whole lot of stuff, but the enzymes they use to sort out the different (DNA) markers have to have something to glom onto."
That LabCorp would come to an identical conclusion on a re-test of earlier samples is no surprise, Grey said.
"It confirms that, yes, they are doing the test right," he said. "But the fact that other labs testing this same sample with different results suggests that the problem's in the source of the sample."
Hospital officials agree with Grey that the answer to the puzzle probably lies within the details of sample collection. For the initial tests, Janet Johnson collected the samples herself. But subsequent samples were taken by Murray police detective Alex Huggard, who followed strict forensic evidentiary guidelines, hospital spokesman Dr. Greg Schwitzer said.
"We are confident that the testing of the materials that was obtained by an authorized government agency in a standard reproducible fashion will stand up in court," Schwitzer said.
"It is clear from medical records and from all other evidence that Mrs. Johnson had a stillborn baby that night some 24 years ago. We will stand by our story and the evidence of this investigation and have no intention of backing away."