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Interest, Then Backlash

Genetic genealogy as a police investigative tool came to the forefront with the Golden State Killer case in April 2018, but as the Salt Lake Tribune reports, two cases in Utah further exemplified both its potential power and controversy.

After the Golden State Killer Case, many of the applications of genetic genealogy were in other similarly cold cases, but police in St. George, Utah, used it to look for a suspect in an active case in which an elderly woman was sexually assaulted in her own home. As the Tribune reports, genetic genealogy was able to home in on a set of brothers, which enabled police to follow up and get a confession from one of them.

In another case, police in Centerville, Utah, turned to genetic genealogy to search for a suspect in the assault of an elderly woman in a church, Tribune reports. While the approach did lead to another confession, it also led to controversy as GEDmatch, the database often used in such genetic genealogy searches, allowed police access even though their terms of service at the time said it would only do so for homicides or sexual assaults, it adds.

GEDmatch has since allowed its users to opt out of being a part of law enforcement searches. This, the Tribune notes, has made the pool of users available to law enforcement smaller. "That was a kick in the teeth," St. George Lt. Rich Triplett tells the Tribune. "It's hard to justify to our city an $8,000 bill when there's a real possibility they're going to come back with nothing."