Indictment by Inheritance, or The DNA Defendant

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I posted this essay on another website in 2015, and it looks like one of the major networks has finally decided it is time to reveal this. The show will be on this coming weekend on CBS. This kind of makes me feel like my essays are “cutting edge” and all that.

 

Voluntary donation of DNA once had admirable goals; the more we knew about genetics, the better off we would all be. Take the case of Michael Usry’s father, who donated DNA to a genealogy project through his Mormon church which was later purchased by Ancestry.com, which made the DNA profile publicly searchable. It turns out that Michael Usry’s father’s DNA had a “partial match” between the semen found on the murdered body of Angie Dodge, killed in Idaho in 1996, whose murder has a conviction, but that conviction has been called into question. Using “familial searching” it turns out that someone in Michael Usry’s father’s family is a potential murder suspect. Filmmaker Michael Usry was then approached by law enforcement (including the FBI) who claimed they had a warrant to obtain his DNA through a cheek swab and compare that to the DNA found on Angie Dodge’s body. According to the article in Wired, it was not made clear if Michael Usry requested to see or was actually shown a warrant for his DNA, and per the article Usry was not informed as to the purpose of the DNA sample when asked to accompany the police to the station. Let this be a rule, never talk to the FBI without your lawyer present; Martha Stewart will tell you that as well.

 

Michael Usry’s DNA was not in a criminal database, and why would it be if he were an everyday working citizen who makes movies. But since Michael Usry’s father’s DNA was in the system, and Ancestry allows searches of the DNA in its database, Michael Usry, (who had made trips to Idaho to visit his sisters who attended college there) became a murder suspect. After thirty-three days of sitting on pins and needles, Michael Usry was cleared of any suspicion. Meanwhile, Angie Dodge’s convicted murderer, Christopher Tapp, is serving his twenty-five to life sentence in the Idaho State Correctional Center. It is not known if the authorities asked Mr. Usry if he knew Christopher Tapp, or was associating with him in June of 1996, when Angie Dodge was murdered. Let me state unequivocally, that the rape and murder of Angie Dodge was horrific and whoever committed the crime needs to face the consequences. Let me also state that showing up at someone’s door because of a vague link in sketchy testing without a direct link and considering that person a murder suspect, (without telling him their intent right from the beginning) for all of those who participated in fabricating a non-existent case against Mr. Usry should face legal consequences, not the least of which defamation of Mr. Usry's character and unreasonable suspicion. Imagine had Mr. Usry been a public official or teacher, or held some other responsible position in his home city of New Orleans, and suddenly he’s a murder suspect. No matter how convincing this case may have been, there is no excuse for subjecting an innocent citizen to the derision of suspicion of murder.

 

All of Michael Usry’s grief began with Michael Usry’s father’s DNA when he made a voluntary donation to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, which was purchased by Ancestry.com. Ancestry.com was served with a court order to reveal Usry’s name, while it was listed in the “protected” Sorenson Y-chromosome database. So much for voluntarily-donated “protected” DNA. Using the information from the “protected” database, the police mapped out five generations of the Usry family, after which Michael, who had sisters that attended a university 25 miles from the crime scene, and had Facebook friends in Idaho, became a suspect. None of the articles that I have read mention that the law officials could have gone to Christopher Tapp, easily found in the Idaho State Correctional Center, and asked if he could pick out a picture of Usry from a lineup and inquire if he knew Usry. The incompetence of the law enforcement officials by not at least asking Tapp, who probably has a lot of free time there in the penitentiary, is nothing less than astonishing.  Further research indicates that Tapp couldn’t pick out anyone who was with him during the rape and murder of Angie Dodge, because it is quite likely he didn’t do it, but more on that later. No, better to travel from Idaho to Louisiana, get search warrants, accuse an innocent citizen of murder and have him sweat bullets for over a month. 

 

This system has a lot of flaws, including private information being released to public officials. Your genetic profile, as well as that of your family, should not be open to public review. “Protected” DNA profiles should be just that, protected, and the consequences of divulging private information should be having your lab shut down, forever, and let a court decide how much damage giving the DNA information away caused the victim. Keep it simple: If you reveal personal information and get caught, you will never get the chance to hold information again, and you will pay millions in penalties and compensation. Like so many information sources in this modern era, many people do not understand that information that they give away can come back to haunt them. The other characteristic that DNA shares with the other data of the Information Age is that once it is obtained, it is never destroyed, even when they say it will be. Time and again, people (often public officials who violate policy) feel that DNA is too valuable to destroy, that once they have it, it should be used and referenced forever. The privacy right of DNA must be addressed by the legislatures of the states, or even better by the federal government. Since the Usry DNA was collected in Mississippi and examined by officials in Idaho and Louisiana, crossing state lines would indicate the necessity of regulation by the federal government. 

 

Michael Usry was subjected to all of this is because of DNA that his father donated. While one can appreciate the efforts of the justice system, all of our financial accounts are private, as are medical and employment, but DNA, the last frontier, is open, and it’s getting scary.  But this story gets better. Christopher Tapp claims he was threatened with prison, death, and “potential deals for immunity,” or so claim "Judges for Justice.org." The "Judges for Justice.org" claim that the Dodge case has “all the psychological hallmarks of a wrongful conviction.” Tapp is professing his innocence, and has a lot of support for his position. If Christopher Tapp is innocent and in prison, then he needs to be released, period. If there was misconduct on the part of any law enforcement officials then they need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and incarcerated for the maximum length allowable. The "Judges for Justice.org" are directly stating: “but the fact is the police may have coerced Tapp.” I see, coercion. Not justice, mind you, more like revenge.

 

It appears that the Idaho officials know or strongly suspect that they imprisoned an innocent man, and are now desperately trying to put someone in jail for the Dodge murder, because of the horrible, high-profile nature of the case. Going after Michael Usry was another effort to cover their tracks, which have gone on the wrong side of the law for some time now. If I were Tapp, I would sue them for every last penny that they had and ever even though about having, as well as being fired from their jobs, and their pensions revoked. Of course, whatever prison sentences they could get would be a bonus. I’m sure that their compassionate fellow inmates would take great care of them. The prosecutors obviously need to be disbarred, and imprisoned, including all involved. Anyone who read the case, if competent, would have realized Tapp's innocence, but then, it was a high-profile case and they had to convict someone, you know, that revenge mode of thinking. People like this have no business "representing the people." The only legal entities these overzealous public officials should be allowed to represent should be the rats that they share their food with in the penitentiary.

 

But none of this justifies what was done to Michael Usry, lying to him about just what the investigation was about, or the misuse of his father’s “protected” DNA. While we could solve and even prevent a lot of crime in the U.S. by applying more technology, violating rights for justice is too high of a price. I have always thought that allowing my DNA to be released, for any reason, would be a bad idea. Your DNA, like so many records in the Information Age, is not a single piece of paper that you can remove from a filing cabinet and rest assured that the information is no longer accessible or circulating. Giving away information in the Information Age, where storage and retrieval of information becomes easier and easier, is a major mistake. The technology has surpassed legal understanding and the legislators are clearly in the rear-view mirror of the DNA firms. It is time for individual rights of privacy to be recognized and protected by law, and to ensure that those who violate the privacy of DNA face harsh penalties, instead of the slaps on the wrists and gentle reprimands given today.

Comments

George N Romey Added Dec 10, 2017 - 2:24pm
Big Brother continues to invade our privacy. Great article Jeff.
Jeff Jackson Added Dec 10, 2017 - 3:34pm
Thanks George. The thing to do is not give them any information. I would love to do the DNA thing to confirm the research already done my my mother's family, but with something like that, being accused of a crime decades later, thousands of miles away, especially when you have a bunch of trigger-happy public officials out to incarcerate anyone who has even a remote association with a crime? No way.
Dave Volek Added Dec 10, 2017 - 10:07pm
Thanks for the post Jeff. It was a very interesting story.
 
I suspect we are going to have a few more debacles until we get this DNA thing sorted out. Unfortunately we don't have a pure motive in our politicians, which then filters into the civil service. Another reason to consider changing the system.
Bill H. Added Dec 11, 2017 - 1:08am
Great post, Jeff!
I was initially curious why all of these DNA search outfits were pushing their "services" so hard, and lately offering 50% off deals, along with rewarding existing users for referrals. It should have been obvious that the people signing up for these "services" were not the customers, but the commodity. The customers of these companies turn out to be the ones that purchase the data, such as health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and various law enforcement and investigative entities. Imagine what your health care provider would do if a DNA test revealed that you were cancer-prone? I'm certain your rates would skyrocket. Just as auto insurance providers can grab an immense load of data concerning your driving habits from your vehicle navigation system, or even cell tower data.
Privacy is a lost commodity.
Leroy Added Dec 11, 2017 - 6:52am
Excellent article, Jeff.  I am conflicted and disturbed by the article.  There is no shortage of a-holes in our corrupt justice system who would throw an honest man under the bus to advance his career.  An honest man is at a disadvantage.  There is no advantage to an honest man to cooperate with law enforcement.  On the other hand, if there were a complete DNA database, fewer people would be wrongly incarcerated.  More crimes would be solved.  I would love to make my DNA freely available, but I have confidence it would be used against me.
Jeff Jackson Added Dec 11, 2017 - 4:42pm
Thanks to all. The Information Age isn't just information about science or technology, it has become your personal information. Add unscrupulous public officials into that mix and we have an age where things could have been better, but they aren't. It's not the technology, it's the people using it for their own malicious purposes. Things might change, but the evil in people doesn't. DNA has cleared many of our fellow citizens of crimes for which they spent decades incarcerated, and yet the people who violated them, as well as violated society as a whole, sacrifice nothing. As long as they are not accountable, they will continue this charade of the truth and their spurious argument that they are protecting us. Locking away innocent people doesn't protect us, neither does violating rights of privacy of citizens. The people propagating this myth should be dealt with the same way they have dealt with all of the people that they framed. Mercilessly.
Stephen Hunter Added Dec 12, 2017 - 6:56am
Great post Jeff and scary stuff for sure, and hopefully this flaw will get fixed because of this expose, and looks like you saw this coming! 
We are in the digital age and there is no turning back. Medical records are another hot topic. They should be on a shared database so that no wrong drugs prescribed , when one checks into the ER department for example. 
Bill Kamps Added Dec 12, 2017 - 12:19pm
A couple of points.  When we give out our information we dont know what will happen to it.  That means things like Facebook and other internet social sites.  These companies own the information, and photos you put there, and you generally have given up all legal claim to that information, regardless of the vague protections they provide.  Protection of information stored on the cloud  is also rather dicey, as  you no longer control the information.  Contracts for these kinds of services are usually qualified with statements like "best efforts" or "reasonable protection" with no liability assumed by the provider.  So beware.
 
Second, when law enforcement wants to ask you questions about something they are working on, they are not obligated to tell you about the case.  They dont have to say whether you are under suspicion or not, and they dont have to tell you the nature of the case.  They can even lie to you, about what they are working on. You as a citizen dont have to answer their questions without an attorney being present, and dont have to answer them at all, if you think you may be incriminating yourself.  If they have a warrant, and you have checked it, then there is little you can do but comply with the warrant.  Even after they have taken what they came for in the warrant, they STILL dont have to tell you the purpose of the case.
 
I dont have a Facebook account, or other similar accounts, and I dont put information on the cloud,  because it is just too easy to accidentally put information out there that can be used for things against me.
Bill H. Added Dec 12, 2017 - 1:35pm
 
If everyone would take the time to read in detail the user agreements that come with various web services, social media, and phone apps, they would discover in most cases what can happen with their information. Phrases like "your information will only be shared with our affiliates" means essentially whoever pays the company for your information (as the company paying for the information is an "affiliate"). Also, if a company like Facebook or LinkedIn states that your information and/or pictures becomes their property, they can share it with anyone they wish.
As a good example, if you use the driving app WAZE, you are probably not aware of all of these privacy issues unless you actually read and totally understood the almost 40 page user/privacy agreement.
Of course, these agreements deliberately consist of multiple pages full of "boring" reading with the toned-down privacy violations written in a way to initially be of minimal concern when skimmed thru by the average "reader". Doing this, they know that at least 95% of their users won't read it and will assume that they are an honest company. 
Jeff Jackson Added Dec 12, 2017 - 6:47pm
Research indicates that Facebook has revised its privacy policy at least three times, and each time it was to reveal more information about you. I told a class of college students this fact and they were amazed that Facebook was giving away all of their information. My question was: "Do you know how Facebook makes money?" They figured (college students, mind you) that it was all just free and when they said the information was "private" that meant it would be private. We have a bunch of naive children out there, even college students who have no idea the business model of something that they think is just a wonderful way of keeping up with "friends."
Jeff Jackson Added Dec 12, 2017 - 7:08pm
Bill, I agree, that the police are under no obligation to tell you what they are asking information for.This means that essentially, you cannot trust what they tell you. I think this leads to a lot of distrust and resentment towards the legal authorities, and gosh, no one trusts them. Wonder why?  They're living with the consequences of their own deception, and just can't stand that people dislike them for it. If you can't trust the authorities, who can you trust? Your lawyer, who, if they give out information that gets you convicted, they get disbarred.
 
So they can lie to you, but if you lie to them, well then, it's a big deal. Just ask Martha Stewart. She went to a federal prison because she lied to the FBI. She just lied, or, perhaps, she misrepresented something, and they took it to be a lie. Number one rule, do not give out any information without your lawyer there. They treat people poorly, they lie to you with impunity. People don't like them, people don't trust them. Is it any wonder why?
Information is power. Just ask the military, or the stock traders. If people had any sense, they'd be getting money from Facebook for all the now free information that they just give away, while Mark Zuckerberg becomes a billionaire. Facebook hasn't made any money off me. I am hoping someone comes up with a program that gets money for all the information that people are now giving away.
I recall one time I told an authority something, and they quoted me as saying something completely different, at which time I told them that that if they kept twisting things around, they could talk to my lawyer and try twisting things around on him. That ended his little twisting of statements.
Keep in mind, too, that in your car, you are not obliged to tell anyone that you have a recording device in it. I had a conversation with a sargent that was recorded from a device secured in my visor, completely legal, of which he had no idea he was being taped. I had it when I went to court, just in case he showed up and started some kind of story that fit his narrative of what was said. BTW, I won that case. Always ask "by the way, what was your name again?" and repeat the day and time, just for the record.
Hamilton Added Dec 12, 2017 - 9:18pm
Great post Jeff.
Let the consumer beware. I think people need to keep in mind that outfits such as Ancestry are businesses, like other businesses whose primary concern is doing what it takes to survive and prosper. While safeguarding their customers' personal information is important to you, it's maybe not so much for them, regardless of what they say. This goes for DNA information as well as credit card numbers. How many people have been the victims of credit fraud, or at least had to scramble and make calls quickly, after their information was stolen in a hack?
 
Can we trust law inforcement or the FBI? Can we trust the courts? Maybe that's a "used to be able to", especially with the FBI having been weaponized by Obama. Justice is sacrificed at the altar of partisan bias and political ambition. Legal rights are respected less and less often. I'm reminded of the ill-fated candidacy of Jack Ryan who ran for Illinois Senate back in 2004. He had a rather messy divorce from his wife Jeri Ryan (actress) in 1999. His divorce records were sealed, as were those of Democrat challenger M. Blair Hull during the Democrat primary. The media pushed to have Hull's records opened, succeeded, and then Obama won the nomination. Then the media went after Ryan's records and a court had portions of them opened, then Obama won the seat. And that facilitated a portion of Obama's ascendency and the eventual damage he would do to this nation's government.
 
Jeff Jackson Added Dec 15, 2017 - 10:40pm
Hamilton, I think that the people who reveal these private things that were supposed to be private should face serious consequences. It will only be when revealing private information has harsh and intransigent penalties that people will stop releasing private information. We already had a government employee who risked secret information due to personal convenience, with zero consequences.
mark henry smith Added Dec 16, 2017 - 11:16am
Jeff, good stuff,
 
This is the question of our age, what is privacy?
 
Do you have a cell phone? You location is public information when you use the cell phone. The signals from that cellphone are public, on the public airwaves. Kids today have no expectation of privacy. They know how the game is played. Anything can be hacked by a determined and clever programmer. We might long for the days when we had the ability to disappear from view, but we will have to wait until cloaks of invisibility are invented.
 
But let's be clear here. Facebook does not own what you put on Facebook. It is still yours, but you give them the right to use it in whatever way they wish, pretty much, as long as that usage does not violate the law. It's like a newspaper. When you buy a newspaper, you own the newspaper, but that does not give you the right to claim that the content in the newspaper is yours.
 
As far as DNA, get used to it. If someone wants your DNA, they can pull a used Kleenex out of the trash, a coffee cup, etc... anything you put in the trash stream becomes public, but again, not your work. Your rights to use your work for your own gain remain yours exclusively, but there is always the need to prove creation and a desire to protect the right. That is why people like me self copyright pieces we hope to publish. It is not the idiotic notion that we can actually protect dissemination, but the acknowledgement that we are willing to protect that right if need be, claiming a private right.
 
As far as the police or anyone else, there is no legal right of anybody to tell you the truth, unless they are under oath in a legal setting. And you can lie to the police, unless they inform you of your Miranda rights, or you can lie and claim you were misinformed, or claim mental incapacity. The point is that in this environment you can't be complacent or stupid. You have to constantly be aware of how information can be used.
 
I take the absolutely bizarre approach of just always telling the truth as I know it to be and because of this almost everybody thinks I'm lying. Clever, huh? Thanks.