On a cold February night three years ago, police in suburban Arlington, Va., received a frantic call. A young woman said her roommate had been abducted at gunpoint by a short, clean-shaven man who sped away in a silver SUV.
At dawn, a motorist spotted the victim in a snowy field near a highway, raped and strangled, but alive. An alert officer, hearing the lookout report, recalled that he’d jotted down the license tag of a silver Dodge Durango whose driver lurked near bars at midnight, leading to the quick arrest of a short, clean-shaven Marine named Jorge Torrez.
Ten years ago, Virginia became the first state to require, upon arrest for a serious crime, a mouth swab for DNA. The sample from Torrez, sent to a state crime lab and entered into the FBI’s DNA database, confirmed he was the rapist. A few weeks later a DNA match also led to charges against him in the rape and murder of two girls, ages 8 and 9, in Zion, Ill., where Torrez had gone to high school. Jerry Hobbs, the father of one of the girls, had been in prison for the crimes.
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up a privacy rights challenge to taking DNA from people who are arrested. The case could either end the practice or make it the norm nationwide.
Arlington County Deputy Police Chief Daniel Murray says the Torrez case shows the value of taking DNA when someone is arrested for a serious crime. “It’s extremely important to quickly identify someone who would be a danger to society if he were on the loose,” he said. And in this instance, he said, the DNA match freed an innocent man.
Nationwide, DNA samples are taken from people who are convicted of violent crimes.
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