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Thread: Theresa Bentaas (57) arrested through familial DNA in the 1981 cold case of Baby Andrew John Doe

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    Don't drink sanitizer! raisedbywolves's Avatar
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    Theresa Bentaas (57) arrested through familial DNA in the 1981 cold case of Baby Andrew John Doe

    https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news...-1981-n1158416

    On Feb. 11, 2019, undercover detectives removed the trash from outside a 57-year-old paralegal?s home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in hopes of finding her DNA.

    Police were led to Theresa Bentaas? home by a new investigative technique that combines direct-to-consumer genetic testing and genealogical records. The detectives believed they were close to solving a crime that had haunted the city for 38 years: a newborn left to die in a frigid roadside ditch, tears frozen to his cheeks.

    Once they?d taken the garbage from Bentaas? home, the detectives pulled out beer cans, water bottles and cigarette butts, according to court documents. They sent the items to a state crime lab, where analysts extracted DNA that they said might belong to the baby?s mother.

    Citing those results, one of the detectives got a search warrant to obtain a DNA sample directly from Bentaas. When he showed up at her home, Bentaas admitted to leaving the baby in the ditch in February 1981 after secretly giving birth, saying she?d been ?young and stupid? and scared, according to an affidavit submitted by the detective.

    A few days later, according to court documents, Bentaas? DNA swab revealed her as the baby?s likely mother. Police arrested her for murder.

    Bentaas has since pleaded not guilty, and now, on the eve of her trial, she is fighting the charges against her. One of her main arguments is that police violated her constitutional protections against unreasonable searches when they used her trash to find her DNA and develop a genetic profile, without first asking a judge to sign a search warrant.

    ?People do not have a privacy interest in the things they throw in the trash, but they definitely have privacy interest in their DNA that is on those items,? Bentaas? lawyer, Clint Sargent, said in an interview. ?And there's nothing a free person can do to not deposit DNA on the stuff they deal with every day.?

    The practice of going through a potential suspect?s garbage for evidence is not new. But it is facing new scrutiny from civil liberties groups and privacy advocates who see danger in law enforcement?s unchecked power to obtain people?s DNA ? which is unavoidably left on just about everything anyone touches ? without them knowing about it. The tactic has grown more frequent with the increased use of investigative genetic genealogy, which relies on DNA and ancestry records to find people with links to DNA left at a crime scene. Police try to confirm the connection by obtaining the person?s DNA, often through surreptitious means.

    ?Without protections, every one of us is vulnerable to having our DNA secretly tested and scrutinized by police without judicial oversight,? said Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, who specializes in technology and privacy.

    The ACLU, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit, filed a joint brief Monday in the Bentaas case in Second Judicial Circuit Court in Minnehaha County, arguing that while it is legal for police to rifle through someone?s trash for evidence, ?extracting and sequencing a DNA sample found on that item? should first require going to a judge for a warrant. Not doing that, the groups said, violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

    The filing is the first in what the groups say will be a national effort to challenge cases in which police have used trash and other abandoned items to secretly access a potential suspect?s DNA. Among the cases they are watching is the upcoming trial of an Orlando, Florida, man charged with the 2001 killing of a college student.

    The goal, they say, is to persuade judges to require police to first come to them for permission, in the form of a warrant.

    ?Our DNA can reveal so much about us that our genetic privacy must be protected at all costs,? an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer wrote in a blog post this week.

    Prosecutors say that argument is a stretch. They point out that the Supreme Court has ruled that it is OK for police to search through someone?s garbage, and criminal defendants have largely failed in the past to challenge the collection of DNA from trash and other items. The Minnehaha County state's attorney made those assertions in a brief opposing Bentaas? motion to suppress the DNA evidence against her.

    Duffie Stone, president of the National District Attorneys Association and a prosecutor in South Carolina, said police are allowed to go through someone?s trash or collect abandoned objects, regardless of whether they use those items to find DNA.

    Making it more burdensome to test abandoned items for DNA would slow criminal investigations, which often rely on trying to find DNA not only from things left in the trash but also all sorts of objects found at crime scenes, from guns to gum, Stone said.

    ?They?re trying to extend the expectation of privacy to shedded DNA cells,? Stone said. ?I don?t think the courts are going to go with that, and from a practical standpoint it would be impossible for law enforcement to work with that on a regular basis.?

    Elizabeth Joh, a professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law, who studies criminal procedure and police surveillance, said that as covert collection of DNA becomes cheaper and easier, there need to be more rules ? from the courts or lawmakers ? covering it.

    The trial could mark the final chapter in a mystery that has haunted Sioux Falls for nearly four decades.

    The baby died years before DNA became a crime-solving tool. Residents arranged for a funeral and burial and named the boy Andrew, which was inscribed on his gravestone. In 2009, a detective, hoping to use new DNA analysis methods to find a new lead, arranged for the body to be disinterred, according to court documents. But the baby's DNA profile wasn't closely related to any profiles in the state's crime database.

    Last year, police turned to investigative genetic genealogy, which seeks DNA links outside of crime databases. Investigators built a family tree that pointed them to Bentaas, according to court documents.

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    What do you care? Boston Babe 73's Avatar
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    Ehhhhh..... I'm on the fence with this one.

    The fact that they went after this Woman doesn't seem right. Yes, she is technically responsible for a murder however the circumstances and her state of mind should be a factor in this situation.

    Police should be required to get a warrant to collect people's DNA because if that isn't in place then we're basically giving up a shitload of rights.

    However a piece of me wishes that it could be easier to bust murderers that we know did it, but just can't prove it. Also, hasn't this already been a thing for a while? In questioning they give them a cigarette or soda and take their DNA from that? How is this much different?
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    I thought the exact same thing. Poor Brennen Tammons.
    Oh well, back to gum.
    ....or exchanging Puke's wang for spicy nuts.
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    I know, right? What the fuck, puke? Willing to take in Boston, an Irish dude and like, 17 dogs but not Ron? poor Ron.

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    Don't drink sanitizer! raisedbywolves's Avatar
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    Meh, the cat's out of the bag with everyone paying to give their (and their relatives' ) DNA away to corporations. I do not understand that. So I guess at this point we just take the only good out of it we can, which is crimes being solved. The Supreme Court ruled a long time ago that any trash you throw out, whether in public or you just put your can to the curb, is free game for police. That's what they used in this case, so I don't see that she has any leg to stand on.

    Familial DNA is making a lot of middle age men shake in their boots for murders and rapes they committed, and a lot of middle age women shake in their boots for the kids they killed and dumped when they were teenagers and early 20's.

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    Senior Member KimTisha's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boston Babe 73 View Post
    The fact that they went after this Woman doesn't seem right. Yes, she is technically responsible for a murder however the circumstances and her state of mind should be a factor in this situation.
    I don't think they're "going after" her, per se. She's just facing the consequences of her actions decades ago, like any other murderer. I definitely think she should face charges, and the circumstances and her state of mind should be addressed at trial by her lawyer. I don't think anyone should get a free pass on murder, because they're "young and stupid" (her immediate defense). I'm not saying there are never mitigating factors to a murder, but that all comes to light at trial.

    Quote Originally Posted by Boston Babe 73 View Post
    Ehhhhh..... I'm on the fence with this one. <snip>
    Police should be required to get a warrant to collect people's DNA because if that isn't in place then we're basically giving up a shitload of rights.

    However a piece of me wishes that it could be easier to bust murderers that we know did it, but just can't prove it. Also, hasn't this already been a thing for a while? In questioning they give them a cigarette or soda and take their DNA from that? How is this much different?
    Agree with you 100% here, I'm having a true Gemini moment with this.

    I think the difference between obtaining the DNA during questioning vs out of the trash is the public's expectation of privacy. I have no such expectation in an interrogation room. The courts have ruled that trash on the curb is fair game, and I do agree with that - but (for me) DNA falls under an entirely different level of things that need protecting. As the article pointed out, you can't possibly protect your DNA at all times because it transfers at a touch so without a doubt, DNA needs to be protected. It would seem this can be done fairly easily by obtaining a warrant when seizing DNA from curbside garbage cans in much the same way you would do it if you were asking for a cheek swab. It would provide protection against future challenges to the evidence, and insure the State has probable cause to seize it in the first place. It's a little extra paperwork, but so is an evidentiary challenge and/or retrial. Maybe I'm being too simplistic.

    The whole privacy thing with the garbage is important because while I may be guilty of murder, and you may find my DNA on a tissue seized from my curbside (and sparkling clean! ) garbage can; you are also going to find and seize my totally innocent husband's DNA, and possibly my elderly neighbor's as well. Innocent or not, if anybody's bodily fluids are going to be seized and tested by the government, I want it to be for a damned good reason - and not because they live in close proximity to a suspected murderer.

    At the same time, I love the cold case solves..... so yeah, on the fence....

    ETA: And everything RBW said while I was busy typing this response. Maybe we do just need to accept the little bit of good being done by the exploitation of our DNA.
    Last edited by KimTisha; 03-14-2020 at 03:47 PM.
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