For the first time, police in the D.C. area are turning to a new DNA analytic system that helps them predict who a suspect may be.
"DNA was considered to be just a fingerprint for a very long time," said Ellen Graytak of Parabon Nanolabs, the Northern Virginia-based company that is offering DNA analytics to investigators nationwide. "What this can do is actually tell those investigators something they couldn't have known."
Montgomery County Police are hoping the technology will help them solve the 1992 murder of James Essel, who was the operator of the Sugarloaf Mountain Market in Comas before he was stabbed to death in the store.
For years detectives have had the description of a possible suspect vehicle, but had no idea what the person driving might have looked like.
Scientists used DNA collected from the scene to create a composite of who the person might be.
In the case of the Essen murder, the DNA shows the suspect is likely to be a Latino man with a medium dark skin color, brown eyes, and black hair. The technology also predicts key features of the suspect's facial structure.
In concept, the technology is similar to commercial DNA analysis performed by companies like Ancestry.com or 23andMe that help customers learn more about their heritage and health backgrounds. However the Parabon system provides much more detailed analysis, including predictions about facial features and shape.