TULSA, Okla. - New DNA technology gives crime victims and families hope
The city of Tulsa Forensic Lab is one of the first labs in the country to use a state-of-the-art laser that can separate a suspect and victim’s DNA cells in samples that are too mixed.
Police and victims told FOX23 that they hope the new technology will help solve more cases and reduce DNA testing backlog.
West Tulsa resident Diana Dean has high hopes as well. She is the mother of Dena Dean, who was slain in 1998.
WATCH: Parents plea for answers in daughter's death
Dean has pictures of Dena all over her living room. Entire cabinets are devoted to displaying all of Dena’s accomplishments and best moments. There are pictures of her at dances and family trips and certificates and awards from academic and musical accomplishments. However, there are certain pictures that are missing from the display.
"At 33 years-old, I would have imagined her maybe married with children of her own,” Diana Dean said. “She would be living her life to the fullest.”
Seventeen years later, her killer has never been brought to justice. There was DNA evidence in the case, but not enough of a strong DNA profile or a good enough match to the person of interested to hold up in court.
“That is really hard to live with,” Diana said. “We have no one held accountable. We don’t even have a cause of death.”
While we don’t know for certain yet, Tulsa’s piece of DNA testing technology could help solve cases like Dena Dean’s.
“It has the potential to send more cases to court,” said Jon Wilson, the city of Tulsa Forensic Lab Manager.
His lab is in the process of setting up a new laser microdisection microscope. Tulsa’s crime lab is one of the few labs in the country to have this technology and one of the first labs to use it for solving crimes.
“It is an exciting time,” Wilson said. “I think this technology instrument will allow the department to really give the investigators what they need when they need it.”
Wilson explained that when the lab tests DNA evidence, they are taking a risk because there is only so much of the evidence available. Once they cut a part of it away to be test, it’s gone.
Under the old method, the lab would have to cut two DNA samples. Once to see if the sample is suitable. Then again for the actual DNA analysis, which may or may not produce results. With the new laser, that all changes.
The laser combines the two steps into one and allows the lab to save more of the valuable DNA evidence for future testing and it also speeds up the testing process.
There is another very significant benefit of the new laser. It separates female DNA from male DNA by cutting it out with the laser and creates the potential for more complete and clear DNA profiles.
The Tulsa Police Department sees the potential of this new technology.
“I think it’s going to be a great asset to our police department with a lot of murder cases and rape cases,” said Detective Eddie Majors with the Tulsa Police Department’s Cold Case Homicide Unit.
“If they can help solve cases, it’s going to be amazing,” he said.
Diana Dean hopes so too. She prays this new laser cracks her daughter’s case. Wilson says that if there is enough DNA evidence left in Dena Dean’s case, they could use the laser to try and get a clearer DNA profile.
“As the years go by, [my family] keeps hoping that there is something new or something better that will come up and help [the case],” Diana said.
She keeps Dena’s memory alive by telling her story whenever she can while she waits for the day, she can finally have justice.
“I have to fight for her. She doesn’t have a voice, so I have to fight for her.”
The lab will start using the laser sometime in the summer.