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Private DNA database leads to arrest in decades-old Delaware rape

Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings stands with Newark Police Lt. Andrew Rubin at a Wilmington press conference detailing how investigators used DNA evidence and a private database to identify a suspect charged in a 1993 sexual assault in Newark. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings stands with Newark Police Lt. Andrew Rubin at a Wilmington press conference detailing how investigators used DNA evidence and a private database to identify a suspect charged in a 1993 sexual assault in Newark. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

A DNA database used for genealogy purposes has helped Newark Police identify a suspect in a 26-year-old rape case. Police Lt. Andrew Rubin said it is the first such use of an ancestry-type website by the department.

“We’ve had a pending case for 26 years that we’re able to bring closure on, and I think any time we can close a case for a victim, it just makes their ability to move on with their life much easier,” Rubin said. 

It’s also the first arrest Newark Police have made as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.

For more than two decades, police had been unable to identify a suspect in the sexual assault of a 22-year-old woman. The victim was assaulted as she walked down the sidewalk near the University of Delaware in Newark in the early morning hours of Aug. 4, 1993. Even though she immediately reported the incident to police, who developed a sketch of the suspect from her description, no arrests were ever made.

As part of a national effort to test sexual-assault kits in unsolved cases, Newark Police sent the DNA to be tested against the national Combined DNA Index System, a database created and maintained by the FBI. Those tests did not return a positive result, so the DNA sample was sent to Parabon NanoLabs in Virginia, another private lab that specializes in what’s called DNA phenotyping. Through that process, scientists can predict physical appearances and ancestry. Police use the results to develop leads in their investigations.

Parabon’s DNA profile was then cross-checked against several databases, including a public genealogy website that uses DNA samples. That effort generated a list of possible suspects, including 54-year-old Jeffrey King of Coatesville, Pennsylvania. The investigation focused on King after police learned he had connections to Newark in 1993 when he was 28 years old.

Police followed King and collected an item he threw away that contained his DNA. The Delaware Division of Forensic Science determined that his DNA was consistent with the DNA collected in the 1993 rape. King was arrested in Coatesville. He was released on bail then voluntarily turned himself in to Newark Police on Oct. 10.

Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings credited the Newark Police Department’s “long-term, dogged” efforts to solve the case. 

“Your efforts spanned two years of investigating, they combined technology, science, but also some good old-fashioned policing,” Jennings said.

King is charged with two counts of unlawful sexual intercourse. Since 1993, that crime has since been changed by Delaware lawmakers to rape. But because the incident occurred in 1993, the crime must be charged under the state law that was in effect then. 

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