The Case of the Traveling DNA

The Case of the Traveling DNA .

DNA is considered the platinum standard in criminal courtroom evidence. DNA is famous for being the tool responsible for finding violent criminals who have left bodily fluids or simply skin cells behind at the crime scene. DNA has also set hundreds of people wrongfully convicted for serious crime free after years in prison when a third party’s DNA—not that of the convicted criminal—is found on the murder victim.

Anyone who has watched CSI-type TV programs or movies expects that the real killer’s DNA lights up with a name and photo ID on police computers. In autopsies of murder cases, the fingernails of the victim are cut and scraped in the hope that DNA in skin cells will be found under the fingernails of the deceased in a struggle with the murderer.

DNA technology has required fewer and fewer cells to obtain a DNA profile. At one point, it was necessary to have blood or bodily fluids such as semen in order to obtain an accurate DNA profile. Nowadays, “touch” or “transfer” DNA has sometimes been found in places where traditionally a DNA profile could not be obtained. But the ability to obtain a profile with just a small amount of cells resulted in the jailing and later exoneration of a 26 year old man in a very grisly robbery-murder in the San Jose area in 2013.

Ravish Kumra, a multimillionaire, was killed in late 2012 in his home in the hills above San Jose. Both he and his wife were bound while the robbers searched for money in the mansion.  During the robbery, the suspect strangled Mr. Kumra, killing him.  However, his wife survived, and was able to provide information to police.  Paramedics later transported Mr. Kumra’s body in an ambulance.

2 hours earlier, the same paramedics and ambulance responded to a liquor store to pick up a passed-out and unresponsive Lukas Anderson.  Anderson was transported to a hospital and was unconscious with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .40—FIVE times the legal DUI limit!

Some out-of-town gang members and a prostitute were later arrested for the Kumra murder. When the Santa Clara County Crime Lab processed evidence in Mr. Kumra’s case, criminalists found Lukas Anderson’s DNA profile under Kumra’s fingernails. Police arrested Anderson for Kumra’s murder.

Prosecutors later learned of Anderson’s airtight alibi of being unconscious at the hospital across town at the time of the crime and discovered that the same paramedics and ambulance had processed both the unconscious Mr. Anderson and the deceased Mr. Kumra.  Even though Mr. Anderson had never been to the crime scene, his DNA cells traveled with either the ambulance or on the person of one of the paramedics. Because only a small amount of cells are needed for to create a DNA profile, it is also possible that a few cells of an unrelated person’s DNA can inadvertently appear in a crime scene—a very unfortunate hitchhiker!

Not everyone will have an alibi as ironclad as Mr. Anderson, but this shows the danger of relying on DNA evidence alone.

If you or someone you know is accused of a crime, arrested, or contacted by police, contact San Jose criminal defense attorney Maureen Baldwin at (408) 279-4450 to learn your options today!