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.