This story was co-published with The New York Times.
Over the past decade, the DNA laboratory in the office of New York City’s chief medical examiner emerged as a pioneer in analyzing the most complicated evidence from crime scenes. It developed two techniques, which went beyond standard practice at the FBI and other public labs, for making identifications from DNA samples that were tiny or that contained a mix of more than one person’s genetic material.
As its reputation spread, the lab processed DNA evidence supplied not only by the New York police, but also by about 50 jurisdictions as far away as Bozeman, Montana, and Floresville, Texas, which paid the lab $1,100 per sample.
Now these DNA analysis methods are under the microscope, with scientists questioning their validity, ProPublica has found. In court testimony, a former lab official said she was fired for criticizing one method, and a former member of the New York State Commission on Forensic Science said he had been wrong when he approved their use. The first expert witness allowed by a judge to examine the software source code behind one technique recently concluded that its accuracy “should be seriously questioned.”
Earlier this year, the lab shelved the two methods and replaced them with newer, more broadly used technology.
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