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Debated DNA Matching Method Leads To Arrest In 34-Year-Old Murder Case

Pamela Cahanes was a Navy recruit finishing basic training in Orlando when she was killed 34 years ago. A suspect was just charged in her murder.

A Jacksonville dental hygienist faces a first court appearance Friday on a first-degree murder charge — nearly 35 years after authorities say he committed the crime.

The authorities tracked down Thomas Lewis Garner, 59, with a widely used DNA database designed to help users research their family trees.

Garner served in the Navy with Pamela Cahanes at the former Orlando Naval Base. Her body was found in 1984 in a vacant lot in Sanford. Cahanes had been beaten and strangled to death. Semen was found at the scene, but there was no evidence of sexual assault.

Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said the DNA database helped lead authorities to Garner.

“It allows us to create a family tree for people who have DNA that is tracked already.”

The investigation technique involves the DNA of family members. It is new and has raised concerns over privacy. Lemma says the DNA database is scientifically accurate, but Jacinta Gau, a criminal justice professor at the University of Central Florida, said the technology potentially is problematic.

“You’re raising some pretty significant concerns over privacy for that other person, third party who maybe had nothing to do with the crime whatsoever and is now maybe indirectly roped into the investigation.”

She is not alone. Others including The American Civil Liberties Union point out that because minorities are disproportionately arrested the populations are over-represented in the DNA database searches.

Lemma said two private companies assisted with the investigators’ use of the DNA database, Identifiers International and Parabon Nanolabs.

Florida is one of 11 states that allows the use of familial DNA matching in criminal investigations.

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About Emily Lang

Emily Lang