Wichita Man, Once Under Suspicion` in BTK Case, Seeks Destruction of His DNA Profile
Wichita, Kan. -- Police hunting for the BTK serial killer kicked down Roger Valadez's door and went in with guns drawn. They handcuffed the Wichita man, then took a sample of DNA from his mouth with a swab.
That swab proved Valadez was not BTK. Now he wants it destroyed, and he wants some answers about why police took it in the first place.
The genetic sample, taken on Dec. 1 as police searched and seized items from Valadez's home, was one of 1,300 tested during the BTK investigation, making it one of the biggest DNA sweeps ever in the United States. But when authorities arrested Dennis Rader and accused him of 10 BTK slayings, it came as a result of old-fashioned police work.
Civil rights advocates say the investigation is the latest example of a DNA dragnet that failed to get its man.
"As the case has unfolded, it proves our basic point of our report: This mass swabbing is really unproductive. This is not how they caught the guy," said Sam Walker, a University of Nebraska-Omaha professor who has conducted a national study of DNA sweeps.
Police arrested Rader last month shortly after the BTK killer sent a computer disk to a Wichita television station. Rader's pastor said police traced the disk to the church where Rader was council president.
Valadez, who was arrested on minor housing violations after the December raid, is asking a court to order his DNA sample destroyed and its profile purged from any database. He is also after an explanation from authorities as to why they barged into his home with a search warrant for his DNA. A court hearing is set for April 1. "Now that they claim the search for BTK is over, we cannot see any reason for them to continue to conceal from Roger Valadez why they were looking in his house and his mouth for BTK," said Dan Monnat, Valadez's attorney.
Monnat warned: "DNA information is maybe the most intimate information about a person. There is no reason for that information to be unnecessarily in the government's files. Who knows what future use the 21st century will find for DNA?"
District Attorney Nola Foulston declined to comment last week on Valadez's request. But at a news conference, she sought to reassure the public that DNA profiles collected during the BTK investigation would not be placed in any database.
The samples themselves are evidence in a criminal investigation, she said. Under Kansas law, once they are no longer needed, a judge can decide what should be done with them.
"We need to look at the good things DNA has done," Foulston said. "I think some people are overwrought about their concerns."
Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology liberty project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said DNA sweeps like the one employed in Wichita are used too often when "police are frustrated and don't have any hard evidence."
In Baton Rouge, La., police hunting a serial killer collected 1,200 DNA samples. In Miami, police in 1994 gathered 2,300 samples while investigating the killing of six prostitutes. In San Diego, 800 DNA samples were taken by police looking into the stabbing deaths of six people. All failed to identify a suspect.
In California, police will be able in 2008 to take DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony, whether the person is convicted or not, under a law approved by voters in November.
In Walker's survey of 18 DNA dragnets, the tests identified a suspect in only one case _ a 1998 sweep in Lawrence, Mass., where police investigating the rape of a comatose nursing home patient collected samples from 25 men who had access to her.
"This new technology has the aura of science about it," Walker said. "It allows the police to create the impression that they are doing something."