HUNTINGDON COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — A breakthrough in DNA testing allowed investigators to reopen the 2009 Mount Union homicide case and arrest suspect Morico Johnson on Tuesday, according to police reports.
In 2016, investigators received results from Parabon NanoLabs who led the DNA phenotyping on the case.
“We analyze the DNA in a different way,” said Dr. Ellen Greytak, director of bioinformatics for Parabon NanoLabs. “We’re able to predict that person’s ancestry, their eye color, their hair color.”
Phenotyping on a blood sample narrowed the suspect down to a medium to light-skinned, African American male with green or hazel eyes and little to no freckles. This, in addition to a series of police interviews, led to the arrest of Johnson.
“It took many years of research and a lot of, really, getting on the road and talking to investigators about this technology before people would start to use it,” said Johnson. “Now we’ve seen it work in hundreds and hundreds of cases. Almost every week we’re hearing of new cases being solved.”
Greytak said phenotyping has been successful with cold cases because of it’s high level of accuracy, no matter how old the case.
“We have found that the vast, vast majority of the time, to get good signal out of those samples, even if they are decades old, even if they are mixed with multiple people,” said Graytak.
She said, however, it doesn’t have to be 13 years until a case is solved.
“Instead of it being the last result for a cold case, it’s something you can do very soon,” said Graytak.