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  • Joseph A. Del Russo, JD

Hey Brother Can you Spare Some DNA?

This post relates to the Idaho University Murders of 2022.

HAVE YOU OR YOUR FAMILY USED ANCESTRY .COM OR 23 AND ME? Well you may have helped solve the Idaho University murders.

Some updated observations about the arrest of Bryan Kohberger in the Idaho University off-campus murders of November 14. My focus today is the kind of commercial DNA that many of us give as gifts or use ourselves to trace finally history.

Which leads us to one of the more interesting pieces of evidence in the Moscow PD arrest affidavit related to a controversial investigative tool called “forensic genealogy”. This type of investigative tactic involves not only family heritage DNA, but anytime the government or private entities identify our DNA, there is the potential for a law enforcement to ask for it. Pap smear DNA, newborn baby DNA—-wherever there is a dataset, the police may come calling. How does this work? How are you or your family possibly cooperating in the Idaho University murder investigation? Read on. lol

When I was a young prosecutor New Jersey began collecting DNA from limited criminal defendants. Say around 1995. And once that genie was out of the bottle, it was matter of time before the State began collecting DNA from everyone who is arrested for a felony. And even many minor offenses. It’s been expanded significantly and if you get arrested in NJ you’re going to provide some saliva for a DNA profile. These profiles go into a giant spreadsheet. The most comprehensive law-enforcement database is the FBI’s CODIS (Combined DNA Index System).

If unknown DNA is collected from a crime scene it is typically compared to the CODIS dataset. And sometimes you have your suspect. But sometimes the result is “negative”.

In the Idaho case there was a knife sheath found right near one of the victims in the bedroom. Since the knife hasn’t been recovered we don’t know if it was the exact sheath for the murder weapon. But it was a compelling piece of evidence that was quickly examined in the Idaho labs.

Unfortunately for the police, when male DNA was identified on the Idaho knife sheath and that DNA was compared to the CODIS database the results were “negative”, no match. Here is the controversial part.

“Forensic genealogy” involves law-enforcement going beyond the DNA criminal databases and peeking into the commercial databases of companies like and “23 and me”. And there are quite a few others. Millions of people provide consent so their DNA can be compared worldwide to track down their heritage and familial relationships. (Also since the 1970’s babies have genetic blood screening for serious diseases. In NJ the Sate Police were alleged in August 2022 of using this dataset for a 1996 rape investigation).

Forensic Genealogy was used in the Idaho case when there was no match in the FBI’s CODIS. —> RESULT: DNA on the sheath matched Kohberger’s dad.

Is his dad the murderer? No. But eventually the DNA will almost certainly be a substantial match for the son, Bryan, the accused murderer. This kind of investigative practice does not solve crimes typically, but it does create a zone of investigative focus. The investigation becomes much more tightly focused from anywhere in America— to someone’s residence/family. You can see why law enforcement loves forensic genealogy.

Privacy advocates offer this caution. “In submitting our DNA for testing, we give away data that exposes not only our own physical and mental health characteristics, but also those of our parents, our grandparents and, as in DeAngelo’s case [California’s “Golden State Killer”], our third cousins — not to mention relatives who haven’t been born yet," read a commentary authored by ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project staff attorney Vera Eidelman, in 2018.

In any event, regardless of the utility of the knife sheath, accused Idaho University murderer, Bryan Kohberger’s lawyers have a lot of other explaining to do. And rest assured they will not have the right answers, if the affidavit (reproduced in the comments) is any indicator. Kohberger’s phone indicates multiple visits to the crimes scene (both before and, peculiarly- after the murders). He was likely surveilling the students’ residence.

Also community-based “ring” videos and business cameras line up perfectly with his vehicle (the White Kia) being in that area on multiple occasions.

Most suspiciously — Bryan Kohberger is seen with surgical gloves on (by surveilling FBI agents) methodically cleaning his “white Kia” car, and disposing of garbage from his home/car in a neighbors trash bin, while wearing those surgical gloves at 4am at his family residence.

Stay tuned.

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