The image and analysis released Wednesday depicting a possible suspect in the Christy Mirack murder case came from a company called Parabon Snapshot, which says the U.S. Department of Defense has been supporting its research.
The company describes its work as prediction reports, and its website shows 48 that have been made public as part of police investigations since 2015.
Of those 48 cases, it shows a person being identified or arrested in eight. Media reports say that in some cases the analysis helped narrow an existing list of suspects, while others resulted in tips that led to the arrest of someone who hadn’t been on police radar.
The only Pennsylvania case shown is from Monroe County, where investigators released it last November in an attempt to identify a man’s torso found along a road in 2011. It has not yet been solved.
“It’s cool stuff,” said Mitchell Holland, a professor in Penn State University’s school of forensic science who used to lead one of the nation’s largest forensic DNA labs.
He noted that the reports are not proof of anything, and that police would have to get a judge to sign a warrant if they believe there’s enough reason to take a DNA sample from a suspect.
“The proof will be in the pudding when you ultimately have a number of cases where they perform this kind of testing and they’re successful,” he said.
The technique is not without controversy, as a New York Times article noted last month.
That publication reported that critics “say the company is promising more than science has determined it can deliver,” citing concerns about placing innocent people under criminal suspicion and potentially increasing racial profiling.
However, in several of the cases that resulted in arrests, police have said the reports indicated — and then DNA testing confirmed — a suspect of a different race than the investigation had initially led them to expect.
Supporters say the result of such testing could ultimately decrease racial profiling, and note that testing against the DNA can quickly clear an innocent suspect.