DNA links North Carolina man to 1991 murder case

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Jessica Keen’s body was found in a cemetery in Madison County after she disappeared in 1991. Seventeen years later, DNA found at the scene matched a sample in a national database. Madison County Sheriff James Sabin has been working on the case since 1991. He says DNA from the crime was retested several times as new technology emerged.

“We were able to obtain DNA evidence in 1991 although the methods and so forth in reporting DNA changed dramatically throughout the years,” Sabin said.

New methods included a national DNA database named CODIS. The FBI developed CODIS to provide DNA profiles of convicted offenders. Until recently, a DNA sample from the crime scene not usable for a CODIS database match. But technology improvements allowed investigators to enter the sample into the CODIS.

Steve Green, deputy superintendent of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, says once the DNA sample was entered, the database quickly made a hit.

“The day it was entered into CODIS it hit his known standard,” Green said.

The DNA matched 51-year-old Marvin Lee Smith. Smith’s DNA was entered into the database when he was released on parole in 2001 from prior convictions of rape, kidnapping and theft. Smith was arrested in North Carolina and is being held in Alamance County.

He is now charged with corruption of a minor but Sheriff Sabin says additional charges are possible. He says the new information gives investigators a different angle on the case.

“Obviously to receive this information is refreshing and invigorating to have now a clear direction to center the investigation around in the past 17 years,” Sabin said.

Smith has an extradition hearing April 30 to transport him back to Ohio.

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