South Florida

South Florida Police Bring New Life to Cold Cases With DNA Phenotyping

DNA evidence is often used by police departments around the country to solve crimes, however, one company has taken DNA analysis a step further.

Parabon Snapshot offers a DNA phenotyping service which produces a report for authorities including a composite profile of suspects.

"DNA phenotyping is predicting a person's appearance or their biogeographic ancestry just from DNA,” says Ellen McRae Greytak with Parabon Nanolab.

With the help of Parabon Snapshot, the Davie Police Department solved a 7-year-old sexual battery case.

On November 26, 2010, Davie Police responded to Robbins Lodge on Hiatus Road after a woman called to report she was sexually assaulted in broad daylight. Detectives collected evidence and DNA swabs, but their search on several databases showed no match. Davie Police even created one of the first ever John Doe arrest warrants hoping to locate the suspect.

"The case went cold, but the detectives never forgot about it. This is something that really struck home with them,” said Major Dale Engle with the Davie Police Department.

Investigators learned about Parabon Snapshot and contracted the company for their DNA phenotyping service. They sent Parabon the DNA and Parabon sent back a sketch that included a prediction of the suspect’s skin color, eye color, and hair color.

So how does it work? Snapshot takes a DNA sample and reads the tens of thousands of genetic variants in it to make the predictions of someone’s appearance.

"Snapshot actually generates new information from that DNA, tells us more about that person. Things that the police couldn't have known before," said McRae Greytak.

Once police received the Snapshot composite in December 2017, they went back to the crime scene at Robbins Lodge and canvassed the area. Their investigation led them to the neighboring property, Flamingo Gardens.

“More information came about to the detectives and through their conversations with people it became evident and obvious that the suspect most likely worked at Flamingo Gardens,” said Engle.

Investigators then located the possible suspect, Hugo Giron-Polanco, at the wildlife sanctuary. Davie Police detectives say they convinced him to voluntarily give a DNA sample to compare it to the DNA in the sexual assault kit.

"Once we got that comparison, it said that it was 1 in 400 billion that it was that individual," said Engle.

Giron-Polanco was arrested on December 28, 2017, and according to police, he denied his involvement. Giron-Polanco is charged with sexual battery, battery, and kidnapping.

“Based on the information that they had and what was provided by Parabon as far as the color of his hair, color of his eyes, the color of his skin to a great degree, the facial features in the photograph they provided with the person that was sitting in front of us. This was our guy," said Engle.

Giron-Polanco is currently held without bond at the Broward County Main Jail awaiting trial. NBC6 reached out to the victim via police, but she did not want to comment on the case.

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