A COLD HIT
 

By David Dudley, 
Cornell Magazine 
July/August, 2006

Sometimes, especially lately, people ask David Scoville about the man who raped and strangled his daughter. If you could get that guy alone in a room, what would you do?

Maybe this is supposed to give Scoville an opportunity to vent some bitterness; maybe those who ask are just genuinely curious. Either way, it doesn't work. David Scoville '61 is a sixty-seven-year old retiree with the mild voice and preternatural patience of a former elementary school teacher, which is what he is. He's not the type to relish the notion of beating the man. "I have no desire to do that," he confirms, polite and a little bemused.

The question was for a long time an abstract one; the perpetrator seemed to exist only as a sample of DNA recovered from the clothing of Patricia Scoville '86, who was twenty-eight when she disappeared on a bicycle ride near Stowe,Vermont, in October 1991. No arrests were made in the case for more than thirteen years. But now Howard Godfrey is sitting in a Vermont correctional facility, awaiting trial for Patty's murder. Godfrey is a thin, weathered man with bristly grey hair, fifty-eight years old, the owner of a window and door company. The fact that he is in a cell is at least in part because of the efforts of Scoville and his wife, Ann Van Order Scoville '61. This might explain the apparent lack of animus toward his daughter's likely killer: in a sense, David Scoville has already exacted a deeper revenge.

The unfolding of that vengeance, if that is what to call it, was agonizingly  slow. After Patty's murder, the Scovilles waited more than a decade for police to find the culprit, returning several times a year to the scene of the crime in an effort to keep their daughter's name in the newspapers.When the investigation foundered, they fought to rewrite the law itself. The Scovilles wrote scores of letters, appealed to politicians, and testified to lawmakers in support of legislation to establish a DNA database that could connect crime-scene evidence with convicted offenders. All the while, they professed an unshakable faith in the criminal justice system, and in the technology that would, they were certain, eventually deliver up the man who killed their daughter.

That faith was rewarded in March 2005, when an FBI analyst linked Howard Godfrey's DNA profile with a sample retrieved from Patty's clothing in 1991. In cop-show parlance, this was a "cold hit"--a computer match between crime-scene DNA evidence and a suspect registered in a databank. In the Scoville case, the hit was very cold indeed. State and local police had followed hundreds of leads and discarded scores of suspects in the thirteen years since Patty's death, and, without the DNA database that the Scovilles urged, Godfrey could have remained unknown forever. The journey to his arrest last year would be, for the Scovilles, a primer on the promise and perils of a technology that may revolutionize criminal justice in America, and a fresh reminder of how life can change overnight.

The Scovilles live in a neat white house on a leafy street of older homes in Canandaigua, a lake resort town south of Rochester. The family has deep roots in central New York: Ann grew up in Skaneateles and Ithaca, and she followed both her father and grandfather to Cornell, as did a younger sister, Patricia Van Order '72.When her oldest child, Patty, applied for early admission to Cornell and was accepted, she was thrilled, just as her own father, Robert Van Order '35, BS '36, was when she went off to the Hill. The timing, too, seemed perfect: David and Ann's Class of 1961 and Patty's Class of 1986 would celebrate their reunions in the same five-year increments.

Ann now talks about Patty with an air of practiced composure, unspooling the familiar details of her daughter's short life. "For a long time it was very difficult," she says. "But  after a number of years, you don't have as many opportunities to talk about her. Telling the story helps us accept the reality."

The couple met as freshmen at Cornell--a blind date set up by one of David's Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers. Ann was in the College of Home Economics, studying early childhood education; the less studious David "busted out" in 1959 and ended up at the University of Maine. Ann followed him there after graduation, and they married in 1962. A year later, Patty was born, the first of three children and their only daughter. The Scovilles moved back to New York, where David worked on a master's degree at Syracuse and started teaching language skills at schools in a series of upstate towns--Little Falls, Saugerties, then Honeoye. Patty's childhood was a series of small-town touchstones-- Girl Scout, cheerleader, honor student. An avid skier and hiker, she had a love of the outdoors--and a passion for travel. In high school, Patty went to Denmark as an exchange student.

Patty was in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell, but academics and career weren't yet a priority. "Patty did well,  but unlike a lot of Cornell students, she didn't sweat the small stuff in life," says Linda Falkson '86, one of Patty's close friends  and an Alpha Phi sorority sister. "She had a balance in life." Patty  served as sorority president and was "a wonderful leader--just a ball  of energy. She was petite, but had a huge presence and personality."

Career plans were still vague. Patty returned to Denmark for one semester in her junior year and then traveled around Europe. When several friends moved to Boston after graduation, she followed, taking a human resources job at a bank and enjoying the excitement of city life for a few years. But the corporate world didn't engage her, and when her firm folded, Patty decided on a major change. She would resettle in Stowe, Vermont, where a friend and classmate, Neil Hillmer '86, had a family vacation home. Except for the Hillmers, she didn't know anyone in town and had no job prospects. From Boston, she answered an ad and rented a room in a two-bedroom apartment to share with a woman she'd never met. In the fall of 1991, Patty drove to Stowe and put most of her belongings in storage. "Patty had this confidence that things would just happen as they were meant to," Falkson says.

Back in New York, her parents fretted mildly about Patty's sudden life change. But Patty told them she'd saved some money and was planning to find a job as a ski instructor for kids at one of the local resorts. Besides, Ann was busy caring for her father, who was struggling with terminal cancer, and had little time or emotional energy for her independent daughter. "She was just so good at taking care of herself,"Ann says. The two spoke by phone on October 5, a few days after Patty arrived in town. She clearly had things under control, as usual: she was looking for her own apartment, had signed up for the Red Cross CPR course she needed to complete before getting the ski job, and raved about the beauty of the area. "Once we got used to the idea, we gave her our blessing and said we'd visit,"Ann says.

She pauses.

"And we have."

David Scoville has saved every newspaper story he could find on his daughter's killing, mounting them in a large album. There are now two of these huge bound volumes, a meticulous chronicle of Patty's story from October 21, 1991, when she was last seen alive.

It was a warm day at the height of leaf season, and Patty was riding her green Fuji ten-speed bicycle, the one she'd had since junior high, around the village of Stowe. That evening, her mother left a phone message for her. Patty didn't call back the next day, a Tuesday. On Wednesday, Ann became perturbed, called again, and reached her roommate. "Didn't she call you?" the roommate asked.

The police were called on October 23, and a missing person's report was filed. Late that day, the phone rang at the Scoville home. It was Ken Libby, then chief of the Stowe police department. A couple had reported seeing an unattended green bike at Moss Glen Falls, a popular scenic attraction and hiking trail a few miles  north of Stowe. "You'd better come up here," Libby said.

The search lasted almost a week. The state police were called in, and spotter planes, helicopters, dogs, scuba divers, and more than fifty volunteers scoured the rugged countryside near the falls. On the sixth day, authorities mounted a last-ditch effort, a grid search with cadets from the Coast Guard Academy in nearby Norwich, walking shoulder-to-shoulder through the woods. The body was well hidden. Patty had been buried in a shallow grave not far from the falls, covered in leaves and twigs. On October 29, eight days after she disappeared, Stowe police captain Ken Kaplan and Aimee Stearns, the Lamoille County victim's assistant, told the Scovilles that their daughter had been found.

"Is she alive?" Ann found herself asking, though she already knew the answer.

Stearns, who now works with the state's attorney's office in Montpelier, says that no one was prepared for that moment.Murder was all but unknown in that part of the state."None of us had ever dealt with anything like this," she says. "I did everything wrong." She told the Scovilles that they couldn't see their daughter's body--a process then thought to be unnecessarily traumatic-- and instead asked if they would like something to eat.

Ann Scoville remembers the moment well, and smiles ruefully at the mention of it; after a rough start, she has become close friends with Stearns. And the years have given her a different perspective on that awful morning.What, she wonders, would her life have been like if Patty's body had remained undiscovered, her fate unknown? "It's funny the things we're grateful for,"Ann  says. "But we're grateful they found her."

Medical examiners quickly ruled the case a homicide. There was a deep laceration in the back of Patty's head, but the cause of death appeared to be asphyxiation, and she had been sexually assaulted: traces of semen were found on her clothing. The samples were in good condition--another break. Forensic investigators were able to successfully isolate the assailant's DNA. Police were initially confident that the case would soon be closed. Any suspects could be confirmed against the DNA evidence, and Patty had kept a detailed account of her three weeks in Stowe. Armed with her day-planner and address books, investigators were able to construct an elaborate timeline and a list of suspects--old boyfriends in Boston, local acquaintances, a young man she had met at a barn dance the previous weekend. But the DNA samples volunteered by those suspects failed to match the killer's profile.

The case transfixed the state for months. Police received hundreds of telephone tips, and rumors swept the region about the young woman from Boston who was killed so suddenly. As weeks became months, the Scovilles grew increasingly dismayed. The police had  the killer's DNA; why, they wondered, couldn't they just test every man within 100 miles of Stowe until a match was found?

Publicly, however, David Scoville was more diplomatic. That May, with no apparent progress, he told the Burlington Free Press that he and his wife remained steadfast. "The evidence is there. It's just a matter of elimination," he said. "We feel confident  that this will be solved. We have to feel that way."

The first successful use of DNA testing in a criminal investigation was in England in the mid-1980s. The case followed close on the heels of the invention of DNA "fingerprinting" technology by a University of Leicester geneticist named Alec Jeffreys, who discovered that segments of the DNA found in all human cells contained distinctive, non-repeating codes unique to each individual. Using a laborious process of chemical analysis and radioactive labeling, Jeffreys was able to create patterns that looked vaguely like bar codes on X-ray film. This profile--the so-called DNA fingerprint--could then be matched to DNA found at a crime scene; depending on how many points of comparison were used, the odds of two unrelated individuals sharing the same DNA profile could be in the quadrillions, making it an exceptionally useful tool for identifying people. But its powers, as police soon learned, work in unexpected ways.

In 1986, a fifteen-year-old girl in Leicestershire was found dead; she had been raped and strangled, and semen samples matched those found on another teenage girl murdered in a nearby town in 1983. A local seventeen-year-old named Richard Buckland confessed to the Leicestershire crime but denied the 1983 killing, so police sent both samples to Jeffreys, along with a blood sample from Buckland. DNA analysis confirmed that the perpetrator of the two killings was indeed the same person, but it wasn't Buckland, who would make history as the first innocent man exonerated by DNA profiling.

British police, impressed with the precision of Jeffreys's technique, launched a huge genetic dragnet to find the real killer. More than 5,000 local men in neighboring villages were asked to give blood samples to be tested and matched. The Jeffreys lab worked for six months, and found . . . nothing. But a year later, a woman overheard a co-worker claim that a friend had asked him to take the blood test for him. Police picked up the man, took a blood sample, and matched his DNA to the two murders.

The case was a landmark demonstration of the new technology's capabilities, and its limitations. The U.K. became an aggressive proponent of DNA profiling, in 1995 establishing the U.K. National DNA Database, which now holds the profiles of more than three-and-a-half million people. The British system takes genetic samples from all arrestees, regardless of the severity of the crime or, indeed, whether charges are later dismissed.With its vast scope--it's the world's largest genetic library--the  database's value as a policing tool is unquestionable: a rapist or murderer can be quickly identified, even if his only previous brush with the law involved being suspected of drunk driving. But to privacy advocates, handing over one's genetic information to the state without probable cause is a civil liberties nightmare--and, in this country, a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

It was this legal and ethical roadblock that the Scovilles faced in Vermont. Some suspects refused to provide a DNA sample, forcing police to obtain court orders. (In other cases, anticipating a refusal, they obtained the orders before approaching the suspects.) And, of course, those who balked at giving DNA quickly became the subject of investigators' attentions, which in turn consumed more time and resources. Simply casting a DNA dragnet and demanding samples from all likely males within the immediate Stowe area wasn't a legal option, not in an independentminded New England state with a healthy suspicion of government interference.

Besides, with the technology and resources available at the time, the lab work involved would have taken years. Dr. Eric Buel, the head of the Vermont State Forensics Lab, notes that the technique used to analyze DNA in the early 1990s, called restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP), had numerous steps and required a substantial amount of material to obtain a reliable profile. "To verify a match, we were looking at four to five weeks of work," Buel says. His lab analyzed samples from about fifty suspects, all of whom were cleared.

For David and Ann Scoville, each suspect crossed off the list brought fresh anguish. "There were a couple of times we thought, This is going to be the guy," David says. "It just looked so good." Indeed, without the DNA evidence, it's possible that one of these individuals--some of whom confessed to the crime--would have been prosecuted, perhaps successfully. But DNA, with its maddening, mathematical precision, exonerated them all.

Years passed, and with each anniversary the Scovilles traveled to Stowe. "We made a pact that we'd do everything we could to keep this case in front of the public," says David. They sponsored tree plantings, dedicated a bench, held a memorial bike ride. The reward money they offered climbed to $10,000, then $15,000. After five years, they sat down with Bruce Merriam, the lead investigator with the Stowe Police Department. The department was stepping up its efforts,  they were told, and as part of a renewed media blitz, they would also publicly announce, for the first time, that Patty had been sexually assaulted, in an attempt to dislodge new witnesses. The Scoville case was one of very few unsolved murders in Vermont, and by far the most high-profile. "We basically said, ‘What on Earth can we do?' " Ann recalls. "We  needed to do something."

Merriam suggested channeling their energies into advocacy. If Vermont established a DNA databank, the odds might change in their favor. In 1994, Congress had passed the Federal DNA Identification Act, which led to the development of the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a three-tiered network of local, state, and national forensic databases that enables investigators to exchange information among jurisdictions. But the individual databases were subject to state control and regulation; in the mid- 1990s, Vermont and Rhode Island were the only two states without any such database. Additionally, Vermont didn't require violent felons or sexual offenders to give DNA samples, a step that forty-two other states had taken. Because the state didn't participate in the national program, investigators couldn't compare their DNA evidence with those on file in other states.

There was a reason for this: "Vermont is a pretty liberal state," Buel says, "and there was a lot of resistance from a personal freedom standpoint."He joined the Scovilles in testifying before the Vermont  General Assembly in support of a database bill in 1997. The bill had been approved by the Vermont Senate in 1996, but stalled in the House of Representatives. Buel's job was to explain to lawmakers exactly how DNA fingerprinting works. "I tried to assuage their fears about DNA and what we were doing with it."

Opponents of the database voiced several concerns.What if health insurers, for example, had access to this genetic library? Who would be included in the databank--all suspects, or only felons convicted of serious, violent crimes? What happens to the actual blood or skin cell samples--which contain a wealth of yetunknown personal information? Most states held onto the samples, even after profiling, and some had no provisions for destroying the DNA or purging the profiles of innocent suspects or non-convicted arrestees. The legal waters that surrounded the rapidly developing new technology were exceedingly murky.

It was into this fray that Ann and David Scoville stepped. Softspoken and eloquent, the couple proved to be formidable advocates. "They put a face on the legislation and what it could do," Buel says. "It got it down from the abstract to something real."

David threw himself into research, talking to DNA and legal experts and writing letters to Vermont legislators. Ann's role was to make a more emotional appeal. "I'd talk about Patty, because that's what I needed to do," she says. Before a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Montpelier, Ann detailed her final phone call with  Patty a few weeks before she disappeared, their plans and dreams, the wedding and grandchildren that would never happen. "We were both Cornellians whose class reunions would fall the same year," Ann told the hearing, "so we theorized that no matter where we were or what we were doing in life, we could count on meeting at least every five years in a setting that we both loved. Now those occasions are another reminder of our loss."

The DNA bill passed in 1998. Stearns, the victim's advocate, says that the Scovilles were major players in its success. "They think it's nothing, but if you talk to people in Vermont they'd  say the Scovilles were very instrumental in getting that legislation passed," she says. "They poured all their energies into it. They're amazing people."

Part of the effectiveness of their approach was their own personalities, says Linda Falkson, now a deputy judicial administrator at Cornell. Unlike many family members in similar positions, the Scovilles did not seem motivated by personal anger or bitterness. "For them, it's not about revenge. It's about making sure there's justice," Falkson says. The couple also seemed to possess  a nearly bottomless reservoir of faith in a criminal justice system that had, so far, done so little. "I've worked with a lot of victims professionally over the years. What was always so remarkable about the Scovilles was that, even over all those difficult years, never did I hear them be anything but thankful for the police and their  work."

David Scoville says that the frustration was always there, but kept behind closed doors. "At home, we weren't so patient," he says. "But I'm enough of a teacher that I know to deal positively with people. You catch more flies with honey."

That frustration only grew as the realities of assembling and using a DNA database became apparent.With the 1998 bill,Vermont was able to use CODIS to search the national DNA registry. But Buel's lab struggled to process a backlog of offender samples that at one point grew to around 3,000. Due to lack of funds, the processing technique that the lab used at the time wasn't consistent with the method required for inclusion in CODIS, further delaying progress.

In 1999, the FBI received the DNA sample found on Patty Scoville and filed it in the national database of crime-scene evidence. But no match with an existing criminal profile was made. "The system was working," David says. "It just wasn't  working for us."

The Scovilles continued their advocacy work, testifying for a DNA bill in Rhode Island, speaking out for several victim's rights groups, and maintaining their annual pilgrimage to Stowe every October to observe the anniversary of Patty's death. In 2002, they traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the National Crime Victim Service Award; in 2003 Fox TV's "America's Most Wanted" took  up their case in an episode dramatizing the killing. And, with phone calls and e-mail, they kept a close eye on investigators in Vermont. "When they didn't stay in touch, I made sure we did," says David, who often forwarded newspaper clippings and reports of similar crimes in other states to the police in Stowe.

"If they hadn't been so vigilant," says Stearns, "I  don't think there would have been as much activity on the case as there was."

But Ann had grown weary of this chore. "I felt like they were saying the same thing over and over again," she says. "I didn't want to hear any more about what they had done and what they were going to do.You wait and you wait and you wait, and you think,Maybe this is never going to happen."

Back in August 1996, while David and Ann Scoville were beginning their advocacy work, Howard Godfrey was arrested in Morristown, Vermont, a few miles from Stowe. He had struck a woman in the back of the head with a piece of wood and stuck a loaded shotgun in her abdomen. The woman, thirty-one-year-old Karen Kerin, managed to escape, and Godfrey was convicted of aggravated assault in 1997 and sent to St. Johnsbury Regional Correctional Facility. According to Stearns, who worked on the case as a victim's advocate, Kerin once wondered aloud if the man who attacked her might be the famous Stowe killer who had eluded police for the last five years.

Godfrey was a model prisoner, and he made parole in 2001. At some point during his incarceration, however, his DNA sample was taken, in accordance with the new state law. It arrived at the Vermont Forensics Lab in January 2000, and remained there, unprocessed, for more than four years. A private lab contracted by the state received the sample in September 2004, and the resulting profile was finally uploaded into the national DNA database on February 23, 2005. Five days later, an FBI analyst in Quantico, Virginia, found a match: convicted felon #2000-0043, Howard Godfrey, was linked to the DNA found on Patty Scoville in 1991.

For Vermont police, the endgame to the thirteen-year-old case was brief.Detectives placed Godfrey under surveillance at his construction business in Orleans, in the state's Northeast Kingdom.At the time of the murder, they learned, Godfrey had owned a house only six miles from Moss Glen Falls.Via a discarded cigarette butt, they were able to obtain a third DNA sample that matched the existing profiles, and Godfrey was arrested on March 30.

The next day, David and Ann Scoville made the familiar seven-hour drive to Stowe from their home in Canandaigua. This trip, however, would be different. "It was just like going up there the first time,"Ann says.

The news had brought other echoes of the past. Ken Kaplan, now the Stowe police chief, called before the arrest to tell them that the FBI had informed the Vermont Forensics Lab of a hit. "We were numb," David says. "Bewildered. Flabbergasted.  We didn't know what to say to each other."

The couple arrived in time to watch Godfrey's arraignment before a district court in Hyde Park on March 31. The legalities were perfunctory; Godfrey, assigned a local public defender, pleaded not  guilty. Though he had admitted to detectives that he had sex with Patty Scoville, he denied killing her. Ann Scoville sat and watched.

"I had absolutely no feelings about him--it was a void," she says. "It wasn't hate and it wasn't forgiveness. To me,  he was just a non-person. Just like Patty must have been to him."

David was struck by the unreality of the scene: the packed courtroom, the TV cameras, and the haggard man in handcuffs at the center of it all. "It was like we were watching a movie," he says. At one point he turned to Aimee Stearns, who sat next to him at the courtroom. "What a shame," he said, "that two  people's lives were wasted."

Neither Scoville is a death penalty supporter. "It's answering violence with violence," says Ann."Doesn't make sense." Godfrey will likely spend his remaining life in prison, and the Scovilles will receive the thin but tangible satisfaction of knowing that they helped put him there. They try not to dwell on the what-ifs that have accumulated over the years, the lost investigative opportunities and near-misses that could have put Howard Godfrey away five years ago, or ten, or fourteen. "That's fruitless," David  says. "The people involved feel bad enough as it is."

That is true: Ask Eric Buel about the five-year delay at his lab and he'll admit that there could be unprocessed DNA samples from other Howard Godfreys sitting in storage right now. "In retrospect, I wish we'd been able to move things along faster," he says. "My fear is that there's somebody bad out there, and we don't have the manpower to profile him yet."

Which, in part, is why the Scovilles say that their work isn't done. Recently they've testified before the New York State Commission of Investigation in support of a bill that would expand the state's DNA database to include all offenders, included those convicted of only minor misdemeanors. If passed, the law would be the most expansive DNA legislation in the country. There will be more opportunities to tell their story, how it finally ended, and why, as Ann says, they still consider themselves lucky. They found their daughter, and now they will see her killer in court.

Exactly when that will happen, however, is unclear. Attorneys have some 15,000 pages of evidence to sift through, the residue of the prolonged investigation. A trial was promised this year, but next year is more likely, if then. The Scovilles are in no hurry. "We're patient people,"David Scoville says. "We can wait."

Crime & Punishment
The battle for the future of DNA evidence

Eric Buel, the  director of the Vermont State Forensics Lab, calls it "The 'CSI' Effect." It's  the notion--dramatized weekly in the popular CBS police procedural--that forensic investigators can take a strand of wayward hair or a scrap of cellular debris and instantly divine a vast amount of personal information about the unknown perp who left it behind. "People  expect us to be able to do everything," he says. "It's  not so simple."

For one thing, the DNA profiles used for forensic identification and stored in computer databases reveal little more than a standard fingerprint--each is a series of fifty-two digits keyed  to so-called "junk" DNA, which does not code for any known  characteristics. "We look at all these numbers and we really can't tell anything, except sex," Buel says. "It's just  a small snapshot."

Nevertheless, the potential of DNA evidence to reshape policing and criminal justice is of growing interest to lawmakers, legal ethicists, and civil liberties advocates. The key issue for many is the use--and misuse--of the databases of DNA profiles maintained by local, state, and federal law enforcement. Initially, such databases were limited to the most violent convicted offenders and sexual predators, but since the late 1990s several  states have expanded the legal scope to include those convicted of lesser offenses. This summer, New York State lawmakers considered the All-Crimes DNA Bill, endorsed by Governor George Pataki. It would require anyone convicted of a misdemeanor or youthful offense to submit a DNA sample. Police say that casting the wider net will help prevent more serious crimes, many of which are committed by criminals with lengthy prior records. Foes of the bill, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, cite a number of concerns about security at crime labs, misuse of personal information, and the constitutional right to privacy.

It is a clash that has been brewing ever since DNA profiling technology was invented, says University of Washington professor Phil Bereano '61, MRP '71. He has chaired the ACLU's Committee on Databases and Civil Liberties and is a founding member of the nonprofit Council for Responsible Genetics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "We predicted all this twenty years ago," he says. "It  was always obvious that this is a technology of control and surveillance."

Bereano's objections to DNA databases are based on the understanding that government control of such information is a fundamental erosion of civil liberties. "With these databases, there's this notion that we're divvying up the world into good people and bad people," he says. "But just because someone is suspected of shoplifting  doesn't mean they have forfeited the right to privacy."

Though DNA profiles themselves contain little personal information, the samples of blood or skin cells that they are derived from do--and much legislation doesn't address how, or if, these samples are disposed of. Individual jurisdictions have varying practices;  in Erie County, New York, for example, the local crime lab files DNA samples from crime victims as well as suspects, along with profiles of arrestees who were later cleared--often without their knowledge. Police have successfully used this database to close unsolved crimes, but lawyers with the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan have attacked the policy as a violation of the state's DNA database laws.

For Bereano, it's another example of how DNA databanks invite and justify misuse. "If the cops could just smash in everybody's  doors, they'd probably find a lot more crimes," he says. "The Constitution's founders knew this--that's what the Fourth Amendment is  about."

Advocates of offender databases, however, can cite such policy discrepancies as proof that more robust DNA legislation is needed. "I think you write the law and make sure it's fair and funded,  and you make sure the abuses don't happen," says David Scoville,  who testified for the New York All-Crimes Bill in Albany. "Part of the law  has to be figuring out how to expunge people who've been wrongly convicted." He also doesn't support proposals to expand the federal database beyond the ranks of convicted criminals. "If you've broken  the law, the public has a right to put your DNA into a database. But  that's only if you've been convicted."

University of Wisconsin law professor Michael Smith, who is the chair of a working group of the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence, has a more radical proposition. "I want to reframe  the question," he says. "Why do we exclude people and who  do we exclude?" Building a DNA database via the criminal justice  system, he insists, is not only expensive and inefficient, it deepens a corrosive racial disparity. "This needs to be as inclusive as possible. If the database has a wildly disproportionate representation of African American males, they will be the ones found to have committed previously unsolvable crimes. And when patterns of enforcement are racially skewed, the laws themselves are delegitimized."

The solution: a universal DNA database. "It's unpalatable when presented, but I'd say you'd have to take the DNA at birth," says Smith. Blood samples, he notes, have been taken from newborns for decades to screen for inherited conditions, but the samples are not processed for the identifying DNA profiles. Such an idea has many prominent proponents, including scientist James Watson, the man who co-discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. A prerequisite for establishing a universal database, Smith says, should be some mechanism that would insure that the sample itself--where the significant personal information resides--is purged after the profile is obtained. "To paraphrase, It's the sample, stupid," he says. "If  we could make a device where you can destroy the sample as it is being typed, then what's the issue?"

A universal DNA library of some manner may ultimately be a foregone conclusion, but public resistance is strong, in part because the concept of DNA databases has now been firmly linked with criminality. "Is taking someone's DNA punishment? I don't think it is," says Smith. "As it stands, we require justification for sampling people's DNA. On closer examination, the legal reasons turn to dust. But we've established this habit and it's going to be hard to break. We've boxed ourselves in."

 
 
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