JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – We’ve all seen it on television and in the movies. When someone is arrested the first thing police do is get the suspect’s fingerprints. For some crimes that procedure has expanded to collecting DNA and in Mississippi, collecting DNA started just this year.
Katie Sepich was 22 years old when she was kidnapped, raped and murdered in New Mexico back in 2003. Because of her death a federal law was passed, Katie’s Law, to help catch and convict more criminals.
“One of the hardest things we’ve ever done in our life was when we lost our daughter Katie,” says Dave Sepich, Katie’s father. His daughter’s killer was linked to Katie’s murder through DNA in 2006, only after he was convicted of burglary.
“I absolutely believe that if we take DNA for all felony arrests we’ll see matches go up quite a bit,” says Katie’s mother, Jaynee Sepich. Because of her death, 28 states, including Mississippi, have a version of Katie’s law.
“DNA evidence is very compelling,” Jackson Police Deputy Chief Amy Barlow, head of Major Investigations, says Katie’s law could have a profound impact on their open and cold cases. “We have had one sample match. It’s an ongoing investigation so I can’t tell you exactly what the crime is or what the charge is going to be,” says Barlow.
Investigators with the Jackson Police Department were trained through the state to collect DNA from felony offenders. Murder, rape and even burglary are just a few charges for a suspect’s DNA to be collected following an arrest.
“People who offend often re-offend sometimes the offense rose more violent as time goes by. So being able to identify these people for whatever reason we couldn’t identify before will allow us to arrest people who should not be free in society,” explains Barlow.
However, some suspect’s DNA will not remain in the state’s database forever.
“If an offender is swabbed is solved for a DNA sample and their case is remanded or if they are found not guilty for any reason their sample is destroyed and it’s withdrawn,” says Barlow.
Since September, JPD has collected around 100 DNA samples. Most of those are from armed robbery, aggravated assault and homicide suspects.
“It’s going to help us solve a lot of cases and to be the final piece of evidence that maybe a jury is looking for,” says Barlow.
Barlow says the department is already looking at cold cases. In New Mexico, where Katie was killed, law enforcement has reopened 300 cold cases thanks to Katie’s law.