Cutting-edge tech could solve Kern County cold cases

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Kern Regional Crime Laboratory is one of just three crime labs in the nation using a cutting-edge forensics technology known as True Allele.

Scientists say it could work to solve cases that have gone cold for years.

One such case is that of Jessica Martinez.

The 4-year-old girl was kidnapped on May 10, 1990. Days later, police found her body in a field.

Her killer was never found.

Marcela Garcia is a Bakersfield Police Department detective assigned to the Martinez case.

"Numerous people have been interviewed," said Garcia, "there's been DNA that's been analyzed."

There may be renewed hope for the Martinez case through the True Allele technology.

"It can interpret (DNA) mixtures that would've been difficult to interpret previously," said Garrett Sugimoto, a technician at Kern Regional Crime Lab.

Kern County has been working with the technology since last year.

"Small amounts of DNA are simply harder to work with," said Kevin Miller, the director of Kern Regional Crime Lab.

"We brought it to Kern County, because we have a lot of interesting mixtures in our casework that need to be resolved," said Miller. "Property crimes, violent crimes, crimes with touch DNA."

"Touch DNA" is the type left when very little DNA is left on a piece of evidence. It's the most difficult to read, because it can represent a mixture of DNA from more than one person.

Sugimoto said the technology can do what human analysts cannot.

"It takes these mixtures apart, assigns probabilities to these genotypes and can arrive at a much stronger statistical calculation that way," Sugimoto said.

True Allele was instrumental in the case of Charles Langston and Dupree Lawton, who staged a series of armed robberies throughout Kern County.

"He placed his hand, just briefly, on the business counter," said deputy district attorney Cynthia Zimmer. "True Allele was able to determine that the DNA left behind by way of touch belonged to the defendant in that case."

Scientists are hopeful the technology can extend to even more cases.

"We anticipate using this for cold cases and old cases," said Miller. "Any case that was previously not interpretable."

Garcia is confident it will affect the Martinez case.

"Can that shed new light on Jessica's case? Absolutely. Our hope is to obtain a complete DNA profile that we could upload into the COTA system, which is the national data base, and potentially get a match," the detective said.