Murder of Marysville teen cold for two decades, prior to genetic genealogy testing
SEATTLE – Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that his office’s DNA forensic genetic genealogy program has now helped solve a 24-year-old cold case from Marysville.
In 1998, 19-year-old Jennifer Brinkman was found dead inside her family’s Marysville home. Despite the murder weapon – an axe – being left behind, the case went cold. On Monday, the Marysville Police Department announced the arrest of a 52-year-old Renton man. The man faces first-degree murder charges in Brinkman’s case.
“I will continue to partner with law enforcement to solve cold cases, bring justice victims, and hold criminals accountable,” Ferguson said.
“After the initial crime, regardless of how quickly the police solve it, many victims’ families experience frustration and pain,” said Marysville Police Department Chief Erik Scairpon. “You can imagine how many decades without answers would seek to aggravate these feelings. The same is true for our investigators. When I became the Police Chief in Marysville in September of 2020, I found a team that had not let the memory of Ms. Brinkman, nor her case, falter. Together we rest easier today knowing that we have performed our duty to our community, to Jennifer Brinkman, her family, and all who knew her.”
The Attorney General’s program provided $1,241.55 toward genetic genealogy testing in this case. The city of Marysville also provided funds for testing.
Ferguson’s forensic genetic genealogy program has assisted with 31 cold case investigations to date. Three other cases have been solved with the assistance of this program so far, including:
- A 2003 violent rape of a 17-year-old in McCleary, Wash.;
- 2003 and 2004 violent home invasion sexual assaults in Pullman, Wash.; and
- A 1995 murder in Kitsap County.
The program is part of the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI).
The Attorney General’s Office dedicated $220,000 to assist local law enforcement agencies with felony cold case investigations through forensic genetic genealogy testing. These resources are reserved for unsolved cold cases of felony crimes with a sexual motivation. Moreover, to be eligible, the cases must have no active leads and no Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) matches.
To date, the Attorney General’s Office provided approximately $127,000 to local law enforcement agencies for testing. Ferguson’s office has approximately $96,000 remaining to assist agencies with additional cold cases.
Forensic genetic genealogy: a powerful tool for solving cold cases
In recent years, law enforcement and prosecutors have had success solving cold cases using forensic genetic genealogy. This involves a genealogist taking DNA evidence, uploading it to a public DNA database that allows access to its data then using that information to construct a family tree to identify potential suspects who may not themselves have a DNA profile available.
DNA samples in public databases contain more genetic information than those submitted to CODIS and the companies can conduct genealogical research to determine potential familial links to DNA samples — for example, from a third cousin to a brother. The genealogists or law enforcement officers do not have access to specific genetic data, just the results from matches within the database.
Only a few companies that offer DNA testing provide access to their internal databases for law enforcement requests. Companies that provide their databases to law enforcement specifically note they will provide the information to law enforcement officers for open investigations and allow customers to opt out of having their information provided to law enforcement.
Attorney General Ferguson’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI)
Attorney General Ferguson has prioritized clearing the rape kit backlog and improving the state’s response to sexual assault. Through his SAKI, his office:
- Inventoried all unsubmitted kits that were being housed in local law enforcement evidence rooms;
- Allocated more than $2.25 million for testing to help clear the backlog;
- Launched a website to keep the public up to date and provide comprehensive information about Washington’s SAKI program, part of a statewide initiative to end Washington’s rape kit backlog; and
- Worked with local law enforcement to collect DNA samples from hundreds of registered sex offenders that failed to comply with a legal obligation to provide their DNA.
Ferguson’s office is also convening two task forces intended to improve the state’s response to sexual assaults – the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Advisory Group and the Sexual Assault Coordinated Community Response Working Group.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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