Georgia uses DNA sample and genealogy to solve 1999 rapes

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — Advanced genetic genealogy testing helped authorities solve three Georgia rape cases from 1999, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

The three rapes happened between June and October 1999 within a three-mile radius of each other, Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes said in a press release. In each case, a woman awoke in the wee hours of the morning in her own bed to find an unknown man standing over her.

Each woman reported her assault immediately and underwent testing to collect and preserve semen left by the rapist. Rape kit testing done by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at the time indicated that the the DNA profile from the three kits was identical, but repeated checks never matched to any known offender in a national DNA database.

The district attorney's office began looking into the case again in late 2018 and determined that advanced DNA testing might be appropriate. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which funds the Georgia Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, approved about $10,000 for testing, the release says.

Early last year, the DNA evidence was used by Parabon NanoLabs, which was able to determine a physical appearance using phenotyping, the release says. The lab also submitted the profile to a public DNA and genealogy research website and found a potential ancestor of the rapist, which in turn led to a possible suspect living in Arkansas.

Once that person was identified, investigators researched his background and found that he'd lived in the Atlanta area at the time of the rapes and also had arrests for charges including peeping tom, indecent exposure and burglary around that time, with some of the crimes having been committed in the same area as the three rapes.

Two investigators traveled to Arkansas last month and, with help from police there, executed a search warrant on 48-year-old Lorinzo Novoa Williams, collecting a DNA sample for comparison. Williams denied committing sexual assaults.

After returning to Georgia the next day, the investigators learned that the man had gone missing and turned up dead. The GBI expedited testing on the sample, and found that Williams' DNA matched the genetic profile from the 1999 rape kits, the release says.

Senior Assistant District Attorney Theresa Schiefer, who worked on the investigation, shared the news with the women, who were overcome with emotion.

“I feel very fortunate that we could provide some answers to these women after all this time,” Schiefer said in the release. “We want anyone who has experienced sexual assault to know that we will continue to work their cases in hopes that their turn will come, too.”

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