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Huntsville DNA expert explains how technology can help solve cold cases

The expert said technology could have helped catch a man years earlier who's now confessed to killing 90 women.

Posted: Nov 28, 2018 6:12 PM
Updated: Nov 29, 2018 12:18 PM

Police departments across the country are re-opening cold cases. Weeks ago, Samuel Little confessed to killing 90 women between 1970 and the early 2000's. Less than 24 hours ago, the FBI confirmed he could be the most prolific serial killed in America.

Among his possible victims is a Decatur woman. Deputies in Mississippi said Little killed Nancy Stevens in 2005 before dumping her body on a rural road in Tupelo. He was linked to the crime more than a decade after it happened.

Some of Little's confessions come more than 30 years after the crime. WAAY 31 sat down with local DNA expert, Rodger Morrison, to hear how investigators are able to pin Little to the murders.

"If we had the techniques available in the seventies that we have today, he wouldn't have got that far. He might have had three or four, but the noose would be tightening and closing in on him more and more," he said.

The retired Director of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Huntsville said he thinks current technology would have stopped Samuel Little if it was around when he started murdering women in the 1970’s.

Morrison said confirming all of the cases might be hard because evidence might not have been collected.

"If you can't see a sample like a blood stain and you're only looking at touch DNA, they wouldn't have known to take those kinds of samples," he said.

Morrison worked nearly 30 years in the state forensic's lab in Huntsville and said he watched the technology used to help solve crimes develop.

"It's a lot easier now than it has been in the past. Over a period of time DNA deteriorates, so it depends on the sample size and if you can get a profile from it," Morrison said.

Agencies created a national database in 1995 for forensic scientists to input DNA and check for matches in areas across the country, according to Morrison. The information put into the system is only about DNA characteristics.

"It's specific genetic markers. It doesn't mean anything to an individual necessarily. It doesn't have anything to do with color of your hair or whether your 6 feet tall or 5 feet tall any of those physical characteristics you can identify," Morrison said.

Before the database, investigators had no easy way to check if other agencies had cases with the same DNA evidence, Morrison explained. He said because Little's confessed crimes spread across the country, agencies most likely didn't realize they were related.

"If he strangling individuals it's not much of a signature because they're a lot of people do that," he said.

It's unknown what DNA evidence was collected from the 90 crimes Little has confessed to, and authorities are still working to piece together if he was responsible. Morrison said it could take months or even years to get all of the DNA samples tested to see if they match Little's.

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