(NewsNation) A lawyer living in New Jersey has been accused of being a serial rapist for crimes he allegedly committed in Boston 15 years ago. How did the FBI connect him to the crimes?
The same way law enforcement agencies tied Bryan Kohberger to a quadruple homicide in Idaho through the help of genealogical gene testing.
The process works by taking a DNA sample and looking for matches in a public database, in this case on GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA, the smaller two.
We were looking for partial matches, people who shared a certain percentage of their DNA with the unknown suspect; this is typically second, third, fourth cousin and beyond, explained CeCe Moore, lead genetic genealogist at Parabon NanoLabs. So if you share about 1% of your DNA with someone, you’re probably a third cousin; this means that we reconstruct the family trees back to their great-great-grandparents.
After a family tree is built, law enforcement can then identify a likely suspect from which to collect a DNA sample to compare it to DNA found at the crime scene.
This really is gumshoe detective work, where you are out conducting surveillance and looking for that opportunity to grab that glass, that straw, that cigarette, whatever it may be, protect it and take it to the lab, Former FBI Agent Jennifer Coffindaffer said.
Police did just that to arrest and charge a man they say perpetrated multiple rapes and sexual assaults in Boston.
Matthew Nilo, of Weehawken, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty on Monday to several charges, including three counts of aggravated rape, two counts of kidnapping, one count of assault with intent to rape, and one count of indecent assault and battery. The allegations stem from four attacks that occurred in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood from August 2007 to December 2008, during which time authorities say Nilo lived in the city.
During a company event earlier this year, the FBI recovered the defendant’s used utensils and glassware, authorities said. They obtained DNA from her glass that matched DNA from the three rape victims and was a probable match to DNA found on a glove worn by the fourth victim, prosecutors said.
Nilos’ attorney, Joseph Cataldo, questioned how his clients’ DNA was collected.
I understand the procedures used by law enforcement are somewhat suspicious, he said outside the courthouse on Monday. It appears they obtained DNA evidence without ever obtaining a search warrant. If that turns out to be true, this is an issue that will be vigorously pursued.
However, Coffindaffer said the FBI and local police typically don’t stop at DNA evidence alone in pursuing a case.
They will try to confirm everything in terms of dates and times, where he lived, the vehicle that was used, allegedly a knife and a gun was used, Coffindaffer said. They will continue to work on this to confirm any information they currently have.
Genetic genealogy was also used to link Kohberger to the killings of four University of Idaho students last November.
Investigators say the key to the case was a DNA sample from the crime scene compared to the trash at Kohberger’s parents’ Pennsylvania home. Police used DNA belonging to Kohberger’s father to show a familial connection, which led to Kohberger’s arrest.
Moore previously told NewsNation that he thought there was probably more to the story, but his probable investigative genealogy played a part.
They don’t have to include everything in the affidavit, and genetic genealogy shouldn’t be used as the basis for an arrest, Moore said at the time.
It can be used for veterinary tips, like the one about the white car seen near the crime scene, he said. Police allegedly took trash from Kohberger’s home and used the DNA from it to essentially run a paternity test against DNA taken from a knife sheath found at the crime scene.
The two largest consumer genealogy services, Ancestry DNA and 23andMe, prohibit the use of DNA matching by law enforcement agencies. If they did, Moore believes it could help solve the 99 percent of violent offenders who leave DNA behind.
It would be a staggering increase in public safety and could save lives, Moore said. But I really don’t see those companies allowing it, it’s just not their business plan, their policy.
NewsNation Digital Producer Stephanie Whiteside and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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