Bonnie Craig, an 18-year-old student at the University of Alaska Anchorage, was abducted on her way to class in September of 1994. That afternoon her body was found floating 10 miles south in a creek. After 13 years, semen found on Craig’s body was finally matched in CODIS to Kenneth Dion, who was serving time at a New Hampshire prison for a series of armed robberies. Prior to 2000, Alaska did not file DNA profiles in the system, and so Dion’s DNA was never taken for crimes he committed before Craig’s murder. Because of this, Karen Foster, Bonnie’s mother, proposed a bill that would improve Alaska’s DNA collection requirements. In August of 2008, the Alaska legislature passed the “Bonnie Craig’s Amendments,” which require state investigators to enter the DNA of individuals arrested for felonies into CODIS within 90 days of the crime.
In July of 2002, 5-year-old Samantha Runnion and a friend were playing in a driveway near their homes when a man asking about a missing puppy abducted Samantha. A man found her battered, naked body the following day on a cliff about 60 miles away. DNA collected from under her fingernails matched the genetic profile of a suspect who had been previously acquitted of molesting two girls. Upon investigation, a sample of Samantha’s DNA was found in the murder's car. This case was the first in its jurisdiction to have all three types of DNA testing (STR, YSTR and MtDNA) admitted for trial, and Avila was subsequently convicted of all counts. In July of 2005, a judge formally sentenced him to death. After establishing The Joyful Child Foundation in 2002, Samantha’s mother, Erin Runnion, remains dedicated to protecting children from sexual abuse and abduction through community programs.www.thejoyfulchild.org
Laura Neuman was 18 when she was raped at gunpoint in 1983. Her attacker held a pillow over her head, and she could provide no description to detectives. For years Laura felt she wasn't believed, but when she heard about a backlog of unanalyzed rape kits in Baltimore, she began pushing to have her kit located and analyzed. Her rape kit containing vital DNA evidence had been lost, but a search of the fingerprint database in 2002 immediately identified a suspect -- a career criminal who had been in and out of prison since 1975. Due to Laura's willingness to come forward about her ordeal, her attacker was eventually linked (and convicted) by DNA to 8 other rapes, and he is believed to have many more silent victims. Despite her temptation to go back to living her life quietly, Laura began talking openly about her case. She increasingly became convinced of the critical need for her voice as a spokesperson and activist -- bringing the community together to identify, qualify and expedite rape cases, many of which had been unsolved for years.www.lauraneuman.org
Katie Sepich, a 22-year-old graduate student at New Mexico State University, was brutally raped, strangled to death, set on fire and abandoned at a dumpsite near her home in August of 2003. Although no strong suspects emerged, skin and blood under her fingernails produced a full DNA profile, which was uploaded to CODIS. In December of 2006, the New Mexico DNA database finally matched the unknown profile to Gabriel Avilla who had been convicted for several other crimes. If New Mexico had required a DNA sample for Avilla’s felony arrest in November of 2003, investigators might have solved Katie’s murder sooner and caught Avilla before he was able to roam the streets for three years. In January of 2006, "Katie's Law,” which requires DNA for most felony arrests to be included in the database, was passed by the New Mexico state legislature. Now, Katie’s parents, Dave and Jayann Sepich, dedicate themselves to passing similar legislation nationwide.www.katieslaw.org message from Katie's family
In September of 2004, Brittany Phillips, an 18-year-old college student, was found raped, strangled and murdered in her Tulsa, Oklahoma apartment. Using DNA found at the crime scene, Tulsa police have since ruled out more than 1,700 suspects through the CODIS database. Now, Margaret Zingman, Brittany’s mother, advocates for DNA legislation reform, in particular the inclusion of DNA from felony arrestees, and not just convicted felons, into the national database. Through her “Caravan to Catch a Killer” she has traveled more than 12,000 miles around the country in her SUV wrapped with photos of Brittany and facts about the murder to promote these issues and educate communities on their potential benefits.www.brittanyphillipsmurder.net
Juli Busken, a 21-year-old University of Oklahoma dance major, was abducted, forced into her car, raped and murdered in 1996. Busken’s mother and father arrived that evening to help Juli move back to her hometown of Benton, Arkansas only to hear that her body had been found in a nearby lake. Eight years later, the national CODIS database matched the semen found on Busken’s leotards to Anthony Sanchez, who had recently been charged with rape and second-degree burglary in Cleveland County. In 2006, Sanchez was convicted for the first-degree murder, rape and sodomy of Juli Busken. After almost nine hours of deliberations, jurors sentenced him to the death penalty.
In December of 2004, someone entered the apartment of Johnia Berry, a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, and brutally stabbed her to death. Berry's roommate, Jason Amiyami, escaped and alerted the police. The sheriff's department interviewed more than 1,000 people and submitted over 400 DNA samples, but the case went unsolved for almost three years. In 2007, a blood sample found in Berry’s apartment was matched to a man who had been convicted of an unrelated crime. Taylor Lee Olson, whose face also matched the composite sketch drawn from Amiyami’s description, was charged in a seven-count indictment, including murder and aggravated burglary. Before a trial could take place, he committed suicide. In 2007, Johnia’s parents, Joan and Mike Berry, pushed for the passage of the Johnia Berry Act, which requires anyone arrested for a violent crime to give a DNA sample. They also participate in a variety of other efforts in Johnia’s memory, including a scholarship fund and annual toy drive.www.johniaberry.org message from Johnia's family
Lavinia was 13 years old in 1985 when someone broke into her home and raped her at knifepoint. For twenty years this crime remained unsolved, as Lavinia continued on with her life. Then, in 2005 Lavinia learned that a DNA sample from her case had been linked through the DNA database to a suspect. In her book, "Breathe Again", Lavinia recounts how her experience with rape brought her from "misery to woman of ministry". She was prompted to write this book to encourage other women and men who have been victims of sexual assault.www.saveministry.org
Debbie Shaw was raped in 1986 when a stranger broke into her home. She survived this violent attack only to be told later that the evidence kit collected after her rape had been lost. For years Debbie contemplated suicide as she struggled to come to terms with the crime committed against her. Then, in 2003 while working as a police department victim’s advocate, Debbie began to look into her case. Her "lost" rape kit was eventually located on a shelf, and was sent for DNA analysis. A match was made to a man in prison for burglary. Debbie's experience has brought a commitment to helping other rape survivors and in seeing DNA used to its full potential to identify and convict violent criminals.
On March 3, 1989, Debbie Smith was abducted from her Williamsburg, Virginia home while her husband, a police officer, slept upstairs. The masked assailant dragged her into the woods, raped her repeatedly and threatened to return if she told anyone. Six years later, forensic scientists matched the sample collected during Smith’s original rape exam to a man serving time in Virginia for abducting and robbing two other women. The perpetrator was sentenced to two life terms plus 25 years in prison. This closure provided the assurance Smith needed to feel safe and begin healing. Now, she travels around the United States through her non-profit organization, H-E-A-R-T Inc., to provide assistance to sexual assault victims and advocate for the expanded use of DNA resources.www.h-e-a-r-t.info/debbieact.php