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Gifts help police test DNA for hits to unsolved crimes
The effort made possible by public donations results in leads to a murder, a rape and burglaries in Oregon  
 
The Oregonian
Thursday, May 12, 2005
DAVID AUSTIN
 
Public donations to the Oregon State Police crime lab have enabled authorities to crack open more than half a dozen unsolved crimes using DNA samples, police officials said.
 
Over the last nine months, state police have received more than $14,000, said Brian Ostrom, supervisor of the state police DNA unit. The money is spent on processing DNA samples collected from known criminals or those suspected of a crime, and matching them against evidence collected from unsolved cases in Oregon. Cost is $30 a sample.
 
Last month, Ostrom said the lab found that eight cases came up with "hits" to unsolved Oregon crimes, including a cold homicide case and a rape case.
 
"What's pretty incredible is that all this money came from private donations," Ostrom said. "Being able to pay for samples to be processed all depends on the budget, and we haven't been able to get through them in the past. But this money flowing in sure helps. It's great because we're setting in motion something that will ultimately help solve these unsolved cases."
 
People began sending money last year after S. Renee Mitchell, a columnist for The Oregonian, wrote a column about a local public television show co-host who held a fundraiser for the lab.
KC Cowan, who also serves as producer of the KOPB (10) show "Oregon Art Beat," charged friends $30 each to attend a dinner at her Southwest Portland home. The money was handed over to state police officials who were able process more DNA samples.
 
Since then, donations have poured in, Ostrom said.
 
Here's how the sample testing works:
Authorities take DNA samples from criminals and other suspects in Oregon cases, and send them to Myriad Diagnostics, a lab in Salt Lake City. The lab processes the sample and attaches a number code to each one. When samples come back, the state police lab runs them against Oregon's DNA database to see if they match anything gathered at crime scenes from across the state.
 
A match makes it easier to solve a crime.
 
Ostrom said he sent out about 450 samples using the money raised by additional parties and other donations. Besides the murder and the rape, police have been able to match six samples to different burglary cases in Oregon.
 
Ostrom said he couldn't give any specifics on the cases -- including when they happened or who they involved -- because "we don't want potential suspects thinking they can head off to Mexico because they might get caught. These agencies that have these cases are so excited about the information that they don't want to take a chance on jeopardizing anything."
 
For Phyllis Whittington, a Washington County resident and the mother of three grown children, all that matters is police have help solving a cold case.
 
Whittington attended Cowan's party last year. She figured she was doing her part to be a "good citizen." When she heard that several cases might be solved, she felt as if she had done her part.
"You always give to causes and figure it's making a difference," she said. "But now you know it really does something. I plan on hosting one of the parties when the weather gets a little bit warmer."
 
Ostrom, meanwhile, will travel this week to Salt Lake City to handle the annual certification inspection of Myriad and share the news about the state police DNA hits.
 
"This is something that I think will pick up nationally," he said. "Every little bit helps."
 
 
 
 

Where to Send Donations
 
Private donations can be sent to the following address:
 
Oregon State Police
Attn:  Stacey Chase
255 Capitol Street NE, 4th Floor
Salem, OR  97310
 
Please indicate "DNA Contribution" on the check.
 
Thank you for your efforts and concern.