This week's feature story details the first case in Wyandotte County that was charged against the DNA profile of an unidentified individual, in May 2001. Prosecutors all over the country have used this technique -- using a coded DNA profile in lieu of a name on charging documents -- in cases where time is constrained by statutes of limitations.
But 10 years before the Wyandotte County case, another Kansas prosecutor paved the way for this new use of DNA profiling. On March 13, 1991, McPherson County's prosecuting attorney, Ty Kaufman, used DNA to indict a John Doe who was later identified as Douglas Belt.
According to court documents in State v. Belt:
Just after midnight on March 25, 1989, A.H. was taking a shower at her home when anThis same perpetrator was linked to six other sexual assaults in the late '80s and early '90s in the Kansas counties of Thomas, Saline, Reno and McPherson.
unidentified man broke into her home, came into the bathroom, grabbed her, told her he had a
knife, and took her to the bedroom. He put duct tape around her head, covering her eyes, and
bound her hands with the tape. He performed oral sex on her, vaginally and anally raped her, and
then left her bound and blindfolded while he escaped.
rape, two counts of aggravated sodomy, one count of aggravated burglary, and one count of
But because this case was the first of its kind in the country, Kaufman made a mistake.
Ted Hunt, a prosecutor with the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office, explains where the McPherson County attorney went wrong.
Forensic scientists have given names to 13 specific locations within a DNA sample, which are called "loci." These 13 sites are universal to all human DNA. Scientists gave each site a name; two examples are D2S44 and D17S79. These loci act as addresses, and the genetic data at each address can be numerically coded. The resulting series of numbers and letters, the coded profile, is unique to only one individual on earth. (According to Wikipedia, "the actual probability that 2 random persons have the same DNA is only 1 in 3 trillion.")
But when Kaufman wrote up the charging documents for the John Doe, only the loci were listed in place of Belt's name. Hunt explains, "Everbody has D2S44. Everybody has D17S79. ...They (the prosecutors) put the template (for DNA coding) in, but they didn't fill in the blanks."
Kaufman wasn't the only one making mistakes. The Kansas Bureau of Investigations mislabeled Belt's DNA sample, switching it with another man's, so the DNA collected from the serial rapes were only connected to Belt after he was charged for beheading a woman in Wichita in 2002. Belt's DNA at that murder
scene matched DNA collected from the rapes in the other four Kansas counties. (The KBI director apologized for the error in a 2003 news conference.)
In the rape cases, Belt's attorneys argued that the DNA profile information used in the John Doe warrants wasn't specific enough to identify Belt. Judges in Thomas, Reno, Saline and McPherson counties each dismissed the charges. The state appealed. In March 2008, the Kansas Supreme Court consolidated all seven cases and dismissed them all, siding with Belt's attorneys and ruling that the warrants lacked the specficity to meet legal standards.
Meanwhile, Belt was sentenced
to death in 2004 for the Wichita murder. He's incarcerated at the El Dorado Correctional Facility, where he awaits execution.
As a result of the Belt case, prosecutors around the country know to include the full coding of a DNA profile in their charging documents for John Doe cases.