A New Orleans man has accused police of an invasion of privacy after he was arrested in relation to a ‘cold’ homicide case.
Michael Usry Jr., a young filmmaker, was arrested by police last year based on supposed DNA links to the 1996 murder of a young woman. Police obtained the arrest warrant after conducting a ‘familial searching’ DNA test using data from a genealogy company, the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation.
Police were using genetic information from semen specimens found at the crime scene and then obtained a court order to access the Sorenson database.
The DNA search found that a sample from Usry’s father, Michael Sr., bore significant similarities to the specimen obtained at the crime scene. Following typical familial searching procedures, the police obtained information on all relatives of Ursy Sr., and narrowed down the list of potential suspects to his son.
Police claimed that Michael Jr’s dark films and ‘Facebook links’ to Idaho (where the crime took place) made him a prime suspect for the crime. “All of the circumstantial evidence was right,” claimed Sargent James Hoffman, of the Idaho Falls Police Department.
But Michael Jr. was not the man police were looking for. Following a DNA test, it was discovered that Ursy’s DNA did not match the semen from the crime scene.
Erin Murphy, a professor at the New York University School of Law who has written about familial searching, said Usry’s case is the first she has seen in which law enforcement used a publicly accessible database like Sorenson, as opposed to a private law enforcement database, to obtain an investigative lead.
“I think what we’re looking at is a series of totally reasonable steps by law enforcement,” Murphy said. “But it has this really Orwellian state feeling to it, and it is a huge indictment of private genetic testing companies and the degree to which people seamlessly share that information online.”
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