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Wyo. lab official key part in cracking cold case

By Kevin Vaughan
The Rocky Mountain News

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — AWhen Steve Holloway took over as the head of Wyoming's crime lab in June 2007, genetic samples taken from more than 13,000 convicted felons sat, untested for DNA fingerprints.

One of the samples belonged to Diego Olmos Alcalde, who was convicted of kidnapping in an Aug. 10, 2000, attack on a woman in Cheyenne.

Alcalde now faces murder, kidnapping and rape charges in the death of University of Colorado student Susannah Chase, 23, in December 1997.

The break in the case came after a DNA fingerprint taken from Alcalde while he was in prison in Wyoming was matched to a sample developed from semen recovered from Chase's body.

"Our lab couldn't handle this kind of volume," said Holloway, who took over June 4 as director of the crime lab at Wyoming's Division of Criminal Investigation.

Genetic sleuthing

Holloway, who spent 27 years with the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, is no stranger to DNA evidence and the ways it can shed new light on an old crime.

His wife, Linda Wheeler-Holloway, is a former Fort Collins police officer who spent years working to free Tim Masters after concluding that he had been wrongly convicted of murder.

Just last week, she stood in a Larimer County courtroom and watched a judge release Masters after the discovery that another man's DNA was on the victim's clothing.

Steve Holloway made the backlog of DNA testing one of his top priorities when he started his new job.

In recent years, states - including Wyoming — have passed numerous laws requiring that convicted felons provide genetic samples so they can be tested for DNA and entered into a national database.

The database, operated by the FBI, is called the Combined Offender DNA Index System. The computerized system constantly compares the DNA of convicted felons with samples collected from crime victims and at crime scenes.

The system can link multiple crimes to the same DNA profile, or it can match an unsolved crime to a "known offender" whose genetic fingerprint is in the system.

Turning a corner

That's what happened Thursday, cracking open the stalled investigation of Chase's death.

After Chase was attacked, a nurse used what is commonly known as a "rape kit," swabbing her body for evidence that she had been sexually assaulted. Those swabs were submitted for DNA testing, and a profile was developed within a few weeks of Chase's death.

But it did not match any known offender in the federal database.

Boulder detectives submitted the evidence in Chase's killing again, and a full profile was developed that was entered into CODIS in 2002, after a new kind of DNA technology was developed.

That profile was checked against new DNA profiles that are added every day.

On Thursday, the computer matched the sample taken from Chase's body with Alcalde.

"It was wonderful news," Holloway said.

Holloway said the backlog of DNA samples in the Wyoming lab is now a little under 10,000 and that he hopes to be caught up by the end of the year.

In Colorado, an average of 114 genetic samples from convicted felons are turned over to the state every day.

Pete Mang, deputy director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, said those samples from prisoners are tested and added to the system within a week.

As a result, Colorado already has more than 65,000 "known offenders" in the national DNA database.

Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain News

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