Sooner or Later Your Cousin’s DNA Is Going to Solve a Murder

A case that could result in legal precedents involves William Earl Talbott II, 55, who is scheduled to go on trial on June 3 in Snohomish County Superior Court in Washington in a double murder committed nearly 32 years ago.

He is accused of killing a Canadian couple, Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, who were last seen alive on the ferry to Seattle from their home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Ms. Van Cuylenborg was found dead in a ditch in the woods in Skagit County in November 1987. Mr. Cook’s body and van were found a week later.

After tracing DNA evidence to second cousins on GEDMatch, Ms. Moore drew a connection to a couple who lived seven miles from the crime scene. Their son was Mr. Talbott, who was 23 at the time of the killings.

The judge could decide to treat clues from genealogical sites the same way that evidence from Codis or Instagram is handled, said Blaine Bettinger, a genealogist and intellectual property lawyer who works with GEDMatch.

Or the judge might find the technique to be a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure. Dr. Leah Larkin, who runs a DNA analysis service called The DNAGeek, believes that it is.

“I don’t think that the cops should be able to look into any home they want without a warrant,” she said. “There is much more private information in my DNA than there is in my underwear drawer.”

The Sacramento district attorney, Anne Marie Schubert, who created a genetic genealogy unit after her department’s success in the Golden State Killer case, rejects those concerns. “We don’t get our hands on people’s DNA in these genealogy databases,” she said, just clues to how they are related to the suspect.

At stake are thousands of criminal cases and perhaps the future of genetic privacy in general. “It could end there, or it could keep on going to the Supreme Court,” Mr. Bettinger said.

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