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DNA may solve 1999 rape case

Utah lab matches known sample, unknown sample

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Salt Lake City police believe they have solved a 2-year-old case, thanks to the State Crime Lab's DNA database. It will be the first time a case has been solved in Utah by matching unknown DNA with DNA already entered into the system.

The case involved a pregnant woman who was kidnapped and raped in 1999. The rape occurred in an alley in downtown Salt Lake City, said Sgt. Don Bell, head of the SLPD's sex crimes unit.

The woman managed to break free from her attacker but while she was fleeing, the man allegedly used his car to run her down, Bell said.

While the woman was treated at the hospital, a sample of the man's DNA was taken from her.

Over the past two to three years, the State Crime Lab has collected and put the DNA of all people convicted of a sex offense or murder into a database, Bell said. The database began comparing known DNA samples with DNA in unsolved cases in June, said bureau Director of Forensic Services Rich Townsend.

In December, the system came up with a match on the Salt Lake case, he said.

The man whose DNA sample matched the sample taken from the 1999 case is a previously convicted sex offender and is serving time in the Utah State Prison for aggravated kidnapping. Bell said that may be why investigators were never able to find the attacker in the case — because he had been picked up on another charge and sent to prison.

The man who matched the unknown DNA has been in and out of prison on various kidnapping and rape charges since 1981. The Salt Lake District Attorney's Office is expected to screen attempted homicide, aggravated kidnapping and rape charges next week, Bell said.

For law enforcers, the DNA match is the payoff for all the hard work that has gone into the database.

"I think what you're seeing is the tip of the iceberg," Bell said. "I think as the database grows this is going to happen more often."

The State Crime Lab has been collecting and comparing fingerprint data for more than a decade. The fingerprint system currently makes thousands of matches each year.

There are 4,500 DNA profiles loaded into the state's DNA database. Ten years from now, Townsend believes, the DNA database will start making matches on hundreds of unsolved crimes.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com