El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson, who has been a prosecutor for 28 years, spoke to us about DNA evidence in the criminal justice system.  DNA evidence is a powerful tool for convicting the guilty and exonerating the innocent. 

Vern spoke of his education at the Naval Postgraduate School where he wrote a thesis on radicalization to the point of violence to help him attain his masters degree in National Security with a specialty in Homeland Security.  This training helped him analyze some of the  violence against the nation's capitol building in recent days.  He also spoke about how the online world, especially social media tends to harden and make more extreme our opinions which can be based on fake news, and doesn't later change when confronted with facts.

Vern showed a video on "Genetic Genealogy: The True Science in Identification" (starts at the 16:40 point of the FaceBook video link below) which was a very well-produced tutorial on the science behind DNA evidence and identification of suspects.  Genetic Genealogy is the combination of conventional genealogy to research a person's family tree with the genetic information that people donate to various commercial databases, such as 23andme and Ancestry.com.  However, law enforcement may not access these databases to solve crime.  But if people go further and donate their genetic data to GED Match, then their DNA can be used by law enforcement to generate family trees related to a suspect.  Once the place of a suspect's DNA in a family tree with actual names in it is generated, then traditional forensic techniques are used to identify the suspect.   

Genetic Genealogy is the biggest change in forensic science since the development of fingerprinting and regular DNA matching.  By the end of 2018, about 60 cold cases had been solved with this technique in the US, and about 10% of those cases were solved in tiny El Dorado County.  In recent local news, this new technique was used to exonerate Ricky Davis after he had spent 14 years in prison for the murder of a lady alone in her home in El Dorado Hills.  Ricky Davis has been released from prison, and another suspect is under prosecution, Michael Green, with the benefit of genetic genealogy evidence against him.

Dave Sargent:  What kind of education is recommended for an investigator in the DA's office?  Vern: Most are first deputy or police detectives.  Occasionally, a different route such as an IT education and career.
Mike Dugan:  How big is the DA's Office in EDC?  Vern: About 60 employees including 25 lawyers and 17 full-time investigators.
Jim Buckley:  How much of your energy goes into SLT vs. the Western Slope?  Vern: In 2006-7, when I started as DA, a significant amount of our resources were focused on South Lake Tahoe, especially around New Years.  In recent years, a larger family focus to tourism in the Tahoe region and of course COVID has reduced the number of arrests in SLT significantly.

There were other questions and other interesting facts and stories from our speaker and DA, Vern Pierson.  To review the video of the program, go to this Facebook Link where the talk starts at the 1:10 point.