That funding helped the TBI begin the Unidentified Human Remains DNA Initiative. TBI identified 14 cold cases that involved unidentified human remains, and 10 of those cases were submitted to Othram Inc., a private lab in Texas in December. Josh Melton, assistant director of the criminal investigation division says TBI was familiar with the type of DNA testing Othram conducts.
“We had used this technology very recently in some of our current cases and it had successes with that, so we felt like that was a good place start,” Melton said.
Othram is the same lab that helped identify the remains of Charlotte Roberta Henry, a woman whose body was found in Gatlinburg 48 years ago. One East Tennessee agency, Knox County Regional Forensic Center, is hoping to use Othram as well to give names back to the more than a dozen unidentified remains cases that it has.
The TBI has already had a breakthrough in one of the 10 cases. During a press conference Wednesday, TBI agent Brandon Elkins shared that Othram’s DNA analysis had helped to identify the victim of a 1986 Claiborne County homicide as Jerry Harrison, 28, of Little Rock Arkansas.
Elkins says he believes that identifying remains doesn’t just bring answers to families of victims, it’s another step towards justice for law enforcement.
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“Any investigator that has worked homicide will tell you, ‘To know the victim is to know the killer,'” Elkins said. “The quicker that we could identify those victims, and find out something about their life, where they were at the time what they were doing, the better off we were in not only serving the victim and the victim’s family, but hopefully seeking justice in those situations.”
Investigators believe the new technology will encourage more people to submit their DNA.
“We’re seeing they’re going back and grabbing a commercial kit and going through this process in order to make that DNA available,” Elkins said.