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How DNA led investigators to the suspect in Idaho student killings


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SALT LAKE CITY — An arrest in the Idaho murders is drawing a lot of attention to the use of forensic genealogy and DNA in closing cases.

While DNA evidence played a major role in the arrest of Bryan Kohberger, how it did that is drawing some confusion. Initially, reports suggested that forensic genealogy led investigators to Kohberger, however in the end, that proved to not be the case.

"It would have been extremely exciting if, in fact, they had used this technique," expressed Karra Porter, CEO of Intermountain Forensics.

Porter is among the many in the world of forensics that got really excited about the possibility. Intermountain Forensics is one of three firms in the U.S. that can do what they call Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy, or FIGG.

"What it does is it combines genealogy and law enforcement in such a way that you can do DNA testing, upload it, and you may get a match that's a 3rd cousin," Porter explains.

The DNA goes into a machine that closely analyzes it down to the genome level. The machine can pull back to about a first cousin fairly quickly.

There is now a newer machine that can pull much deeper family connections and genealogical databases, but it's also more expensive.

"We are nonprofit, and our whole mission is to reduce the cost of DNA testing for law enforcement and families," Porter said.

They are looking to state lawmakers to allocate more funding to the resource.

It's already helped close cases around the country and here in Utah, but Porter believes the technology will eventually be used in active cases, too, since you can narrow down a lead from only DNA.

While earlier reports suggested that this type of technology might have been used to find Kohberger, the real story turned out to be less exciting, as Porter discovered while reading through his arresting affidavit. Investigators suspected Kohberger early on because they identified his car but couldn't get a sample of his DNA. So, they instead went to his dad's garbage and found what they needed there.

"Actually, it's what most people would call a paternity test," Porter said.

She is still grateful for the initial attention, as she believes FIGG could play a major role in solving more cases.

"This is the most exciting development in law enforcement in decades. It is going to close tens of thousands of cold cases," Porter said. "This is the future."

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Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson often doubles as his own photographer, shooting and editing most of his stories. He came to KSL in April 2011 after working for several years at various broadcast news outlets.

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