Police use DNA from burglar’s mask to solve years-old case

RICHMOND HEIGHTS, MO (KTVI) - Fighting crime one DNA match at a time. Just recently, the Richmond Heights Police Department was able to solve a three-year-old home invasion case, thanks to advanced DNA technology.

Authorities identified 26-year-old Javon Winston as their main suspect in a home burglary off Glades Avenue in Richmond Heights back in August 2014.

Court documents stated the homeowner came home to find all the rooms rummaged through and evidence of forced entry. While police were on the scene, Winston was seen running from the house, leaving behind a surgical mask that he was wearing.

“…Which our responders identified as a possible source of DNA and it was entered into the system and eventually we did get the suspect identified," said Captain Craig Mueller, Richmond Heights Police Department.

"It could be saliva, hair, or skin, anything that they leave behind. Maybe if they even breathe into a mask and left a skin particle somewhere and we take it over to the lab, they do a fantastic job of getting those processed for us."

Mueller said even though it may have taken a while before authorities identified Winston, there is a reason for it.

"Not everyone's DNA is in the DNA system, so we may get evidence at a crime scene and think we have DNA on it, however that suspect’s DNA might not be in the system,” he said. “It might be a year later before his or her DNA gets in the system and we make a match."

Mueller said it used to be that fingerprints were the way to go, but more and more officers are being trained in how to utilize advanced DNA technology.

"It's a much smaller database,” he said. “But as people start getting DNA and putting it in the system, it's getting more and more effective for us to fight crime. All Richmond Heights patrol officers, whether they are detectives or just the guy on the street, gets initial DNA skills.”

Mueller added that, to a certain degree, there is the notion of what some citizens may see happening in TV crime dramas and compare it to real life crime solving.

"I think some people watch CSI TV shows and they think, ‘You can just put somebody in and—boom—you get an identification,” he said. “The wheels of justice go a little slowly, so just because we might not solve a crime that day, or somebody might not be in custody that week, it doesn't mean that we have forgotten about the case. So sometimes we get a little bit lucky or sometimes it's hard work from our detectives.”

Mueller said the goal for law enforcement agencies is to try and eliminate the one year delay, meaning continuing to train officers in how to use the DNA database as it becomes bigger.