New DNA technology advances helps find alleged murderer in 2009 cold case

Updated: Jul. 26, 2017 at 7:26 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Monica Quaal handles DNA from crime scenes across southwest Louisiana.

"We just take evidence from law enforcement agencies they collect at the scene and then we take samples from it," said Quaal the DNA technical leader at the southwest Louisiana Crime Lab.

It's samples Quaal tries to find a match for and she has been working on a case for the past seven years. The 2009 Sierra Bouzigard cold case.

The DNA had been placed in CODIS, a DNA database, but a match was never found.

But back in 2015, Quaal discovered something that would lead to the break in the Bouzigard case investigators needed.

"Our laboratory watched it on a webinar and then we thought of this case and went to discuss it with the agency," Quaal said.

They discovered Parabon Nanolabs – a Virginia-based DNA technology company.
"Of course the sheriff and all the investigators were like, 'Yes, anything that we can do,'" Quaal said.

For the past two and a half years, Parabon Nanolabs has offered DNA Phenotyping.

"All we need to do is pull out the parts of the DNA that codes for blue eyes versus brown eyes, blonde hair versus brown hair," said Ellen Greytak, director of Bioinformatics at Parabon Nanolabs. "Then we show the probability given the DNA that we've observed. We also do that for pigmentation, ancestry and also the shape of the face."

The company is then able to build a sketch and characteristic profile and give investigators a DNA snapshot.

The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office received back in September 2015.

Initially, investigators believed a Hispanic man was involved, but the snapshot would prove otherwise.

Blake Russell was arrested on Monday morning after investigators received a tip. He is charged with second-degree murder and jailed on a $2 million bond.

Click HERE to watch the news conference from Monday.

The Bouzigard case marks the first time the new technology has been used in Louisiana.

It's continuing advances in DNA technology Greytak said will allow them to help investigators around the world with cases that may have remained cold otherwise.

"This is very new in forensics thinking about DNA as an actual functional piece of information rather than a fingerprint just for matching," Greytak said.

In the past two and half years Parabon Nanolabs has been offering this DNA technology for commercial use they have created snapshots for more than 100 case both domestically and internationally.

Greytak said they also use the technology to help identify bodies.

To learn more about Parabon Nanolabs, click HERE.

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