Illinois has been on the forefront of the movement to investigate post-conviction claims of actual innocence utilizing DNA. In 1997, Illinois became one of the first states in the country to adopt legislation giving convicted individuals access to DNA testing.
More recently, the Illinois General Assembly amended the statute in 2007 to allow for re-testing of biological evidence even if DNA testing had been available at the time of trial. This change in the law recognizes recent improvements in DNA testing methods that can now recover DNA profiles that previous testing failed to find. (See 725 ILCS 5/116-3 (a)(2).
Touch DNA is one such improvement that is on the cutting edge of DNA technology. Developed in 1997 by Dutch scientist Richard Eikelenboom, Richard and his wife Selma use a sample recovery method that isolates epithelial skin cells left on the clothing of crime victims by the perpetrator.
Their work in the Colorado case of Timothy Masters led to the first Touch DNA exoneration in the US. They were able to recovery three full DNA profiles from the victim's clothing in this twenty year old murder case. All three profiles matched an individual who was on a short list of suspects in the original investigation. Faced with this evidence in January of 2008, prosecutors agreed to vacate the conviction of Masters. His case was recently featured on CBS 48 Hours Mystery Drawn to Murder.
Touch DNA testing has drawn the interest of law enforcement and prosecutors, as well. They recognize Touch DNA’s potential for solving cold cases. Since the Masters case, Colorado law enforcement authorities consulted with the Eikelenbooms and decided to use Touch DNA in the unsolved case of Jon Benet Ramsey. Her parents, ten years ago, had been wrongly suspected of the murder by Boulder police. Full DNA profiles where identified from the areas of the clothing where the crime perpetrator grabbed hold of the clothing of Jon Benet Ramsey. These test results may someday lead to the identification of her killer.