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Tuesday, May 12 2009 04:18 PM

Crime lab to start DNA testing on some property crimes

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    By Jenn Ireland / The Californian

    Kern County District Attorney Ed Jagels explains how the newly expanded forensic science program is being used to help solve local cold cases, during a press conference Tuesday morning in the trace evidence room inside the Crime Lab at the Kern County District Attorney's Office.

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BY STEVE E. SWENSON, Californian staff writer sswenson@bakersfield.com

If you discard a saliva-laced cigarette at a house burglary, or you cut yourself trying to break into a car, your DNA might come back to haunt you in Kern County.

District Attorney Ed Jagels said the DNA technology which has long been used in violent crimes will now be used in property crimes.

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The Kern County Crime Lab has come under recent attack by some defense attorneys and politicians who have criticized its worth and independence in the criminal justice system.

District Attorney Ed Jagels took time at Tuesday's news conference to highlight a few cases largely or totally solved by the lab. They include:

* Saliva on the skin of woman, kidnapped in January from the Babies R Us parking lot and sexually assaulted, was used by the lab to identify Anthony Ray Graham Jr. as her attacker.

Graham, 28, of Los Angeles, is awaiting trial on kidnapping, robbery and sexual assault charges.

* Bugs on the radiator and bumper of a car rented by local school vice principal Vincent Brothers in Columbus, Ohio, helped prove he drove back to Bakersfield to kill his wife, mother-in-law and three small children in 2003.

Brothers was convicted and sentenced to death.

* The August 2008 beating and stabbing deaths of 81-year-old Joseph Parrott and 77-year-old Dorothy Parrott in their southwest Bakersfield home.

Blood on a knife and footprints at the scene bolstered evidence against a second suspect in the case. The first suspect was arrested after a youth minister shared his confession.

A trial is pending for teens Kyle Hoffman and Luis Palafox.

* DNA evidence in a 2004 sexual assault case was linked by the lab to rapes in 1998 and 2002.

That helped gain convictions against 35-year-old Jose Hernandez who was sentenced in December to life prison terms.

* Blood on a Lamont water fountain led to the arrest of two men in the stabbing and stomping death of 41-year-old Jose Muralles in 1996.

Juan Marcos Ornelas and Alberto Madrigal were arrested five years after the killing and convicted of first-degree murder.

* In one of the lab's proudest moments, semen on a bedspread from the 1978 murder and rape of Rosamond beauty queen Tana Woolley led to the arrest of Larry Hazlett 24 years later.

"He's on Death Row because of the Kern County crime lab," Jagels said.

It hasn't been used locally because the backlog on the higher priority murders, assaults and rapes has been so great, Jagels said.

"That backlog has been liquidated," Jagels said.

While A violent crime case would still take precedence, burglaries and car thefts will be squeezed in when blood or saliva is there for the taking, he said.

In just a couple weeks, the crime lab has identified three suspects in two house burglaries and one car break in, Jagels said.

The lab expects to add a couple property crime cases a week to its "cold hit" program -- cases which would likely go unsolved unless some spit, blood or semen points to the perpetrator, forensics supervisor Brenda Smith said.

Jagels said he has high hopes of great success in the new property crime program because Orange County, which has a working arrangement with Kern County, has been highly successful with its program.

Orange County "has a 70 percent success rate" for identifying suspects from DNA taken in property crime cases, Jagels said.

"This is an amazing statistic," he said.

Last year, Kern agreed to submit Orange County cases to a national data base. Orange uses private labs, but private labs can't access the data base, Jagels said.

So Kern does it for them. If a suspect in the data base matches a submitted DNA profile, that can be used as evidence the suspect committed the crime, he said.

"The crooks who leave evidence behind in property crimes are going to be in big trouble in Kern County," Jagels said.

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