Larry Tetamore/County News file photo
Livingston County DA
DNA evidence cracks open tough burglary case
Human genetic material, inherently unique to a particular individual and only that individual, when “left behind” as shed skin cells, loose hair, other bodily residue, offers indelible proof of that individual’s presence at the location where the material is retrieved — or on the handles of implements the individual has used.
The DNA “fingerprint” of a culprit at a crime scene is swiftly becoming the best and near-foolproof forensic method for catching criminals, even when a case is “cold.”
In a historic first for Livingston County, a two-and-a-half year old burglary case has been solved using the New York State DNA databank and forensic DNA evidence recovered at the scene of a crime.
Consequently, Robert L. Buckman, 67, of Rochester has plead guilty to Attempted Burglary, Second Degree, a Class D Violent Felony. On April 24 Buckman was sentenced to a term of two years incarceration in a state correctional facility, plus three years post-release supervision.
In October, 2009, a residence on West Main Street in Lima was burglarized. Electronic items and other property were taken, but left behind were the tools the burglar had used to gain entry: a mallet, a pry bar and a screwdriver. The tools contained sufficient evidence of the burglar’s DNA, probably from loose skin cells, which Sheriff’s forensic investigators were able to secure using swabs.
A match was recently confirmed between the DNA residue on one of the tools and the DNA profile of Buckman residing the New York State databank. (Buckman was in the databank in the first place because of an earlier shoplifting conviction.) When confronted with this evidence, Buckman plead guilty to the charge as filed.
Livingston County Assistant District Attorney Eric Schiener noted that initial analysis confirmed Buckman’s use of only one of the three forced entry tools. After Buckman was taken into custody and a fresh DNA sample taken, confirmation of his using all three tools was obtained.
“This is the first real cold case in this county that was successfully investigated using the databank,” Schiener said, adding “This is the finger print of the modern day — and we give off a lot more ‘fingerprints’ with DNA than we do with our exposed fingers.”
Gathering of DNA evidence has become a standard operating procedure at the scene of almost any crime, and is especially important when there are no suspects or leads, Schiener advised.
“Everyone thinks of DNA being used in the high profile homicide and sexual cases, but burglaries and larcenies — crimes that until now typically remain unsolved — are where we are going to see the method really put to use,” Schiener predicts.
As a prosecutor, Schiener welcomes the absolutely overwhelming mathematical certainty of DNA matching. When a DNA match is established, the likelihood of the match being an accidental product of random sequence is so small as to be effectively zero.
Schiener has several other ‘cold hit” cases in his hopper, awaiting DNA confirmation.
“It’s hard for the accused person to argue that [an instance of matched] DNA is not his,” Schiener said. “It’s extremely unique to every person.”
Incidentally, as part of his penalty and restitution, Buckman will pay DNA analysis fees.