I am excited to announce that I have been invited to speak at the International Symposium on Human Identification at the Arizona Biltmore Resort in Phoenix October 1. The showcase, which will also feature Natasha Poe, former DNA analyst for the Louisiana State Police, will delve into the unique aspects of the Derrick Todd Lee case. Lee was convicted of the murders of two women in South Louisiana—Geralyn Barr DeSote and Charlotte Murray Pace—and linked by DNA to the murders of five other women, although he is suspected of even more.
At the time of Lee’s rampage, DNA technology was in its infancy. In 1998, semen found on a trashcan liner at the home of Randi Mebruer (whose body has never been found) in Zachary, Louisiana, could have stopped this killer in his tracks; however, DNA testing was so expensive back then that the Zachary Police Department could not afford to have the sample tested.
Lee went on to murder again and again. At many of his crime scenes, witnesses reported seeing a white male in a white pickup truck near the home of the victims. It became generally accepted that a white male was responsible for the murders.
In 2001, soon after the murder of Gina Wilson Green, David McDavid (now chief of the Zachary Police Department) and Dannie Mixon (formerly with the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office) approached the Baton Rouge Police Department with the criminal file of an African American male whom they believed could be responsible for the murders of Connie Lynn Warner, Randi Mebruer, and Gina Wilson Green. No one paid attention. Their suspect was black. The killer in the case the BRPD was investigating was white.
Soon other murders of beautiful women in their homes began spreading terror throughout the community: Geralyn Barr DeSoto, Charlotte Murray Pace, Christine Moore, Pam Kinamore, Trenisha Dené Colombe, Carrie Lynn Yoder. And still other women were attacked or went missing—Dianne Alexander, Mari Ann Fowler. Everyone from Baton Rouge to Lafayette began looking suspiciously at all white men in white pickup trucks. Approximately 2,500 white males were pulled over in East Baton Rouge Parish and swabbed for DNA on the side of the road.
It wasn’t until Tony Frudakis, a scientist with DNA Print Genomics, Inc. in Sarasota, Florida, racially profiled the killer through a new process of geographic profiling and determined that the killer was 85 percent Sub-Saharan African and 15 percent Native American that the focus of the investigation changed. Suddenly, the public was warned to “broaden their thinking about this offender.”
This new form of profiling was not the only first in DNA technology used in the Derrick Todd Lee case. At Lee’s trial for the murder of Geralyn Barr DeSoto, Y-STR technology (short tandem repeats on the Y-chromosome) was introduced for the first time in a murder trial. Using only the Y-chromosome, Prosecutor Tony Clayton, with the help of DNA analysts, was able to prove that the killer was a male in Derrick Todd Lee’s family. That combined with evidence from the crime scene, including a boot print in blood on the victim’s back and DNA evidence from other murders, put the nail in Lee’s proverbial coffin.
Without DNA technology, police might still be searching for a white male in a white pickup truck, and Derrick Todd Lee might not be on Death Row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola awaiting justice—execution for his horrific crimes.