By Colleen Long
A puzzling DNA match that appeared to link the 2004 killing of a New York City drama student and evidence collected this year from a Brooklyn protest affiliated with Occupy Wall Street was instead the result of a lab worker who handled both cases, a law enforcement official said Wednesday.
A database of DNA samples recently matched DNA on a metal chain collected after the protest this spring to material on a CD player found eight years ago near Sarah Fox's body. But during the process of excluding people who may have handled evidence, it was determined the DNA came from a lab worker who dealt with both cases, said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. It was not clear if the mistake was the result of contaminated evidence.
Fox, 21, was on a semester off from her studies at The Juilliard School when she vanished after setting out to go running in an upper Manhattan park on May 19, 2004. Her disappearance spurred a search that involved 260 police recruits, as well as volunteers, and thousands of dollars were offered as a reward for information.
Her body was found after six days in the park, with her clothing gone and her larynx fractured. Her CD player was about 100 feet away.
Police questioned a resident of the neighborhood near the park, Dimitry Sheinman, who surprised them by saying he had "visions" about Fox that could help the investigation. Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau pronounced Sheinman the "No. 1 suspect," but Sheinman was never charged.
Sheinman, who recently published a book about the killing, went to police on June 12 and handed detectives a packet that contained the name of a suspected killer, information he said he received clairvoyantly.
He did not speak with police; he only dropped the papers off. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday that detectives have spoken to him. Kelly wouldn't comment on the case.
The chain was used to hold open an emergency exit gate during a March 28 protest at a Brooklyn subway station. The protest was apparently organized by an entity called the Rank and File Initiative, which posted a statement online at the time describing many of the participants as Occupy Wall Street activists.
An Occupy press liaison said the activists were worried that people would jump to the wrong conclusion about the DNA link. The liaison, Bill Dobbs, said the activists felt they were being smeared by unnamed officials quoted who connected them to Fox's death in news reports before the explanation about the DNA match was known.
"The last day has been very disturbing," Dobbs said. "Let's hope the investigation into Sarah Fox's death proceeds with more care than the DNA testing and that Occupy Wall Street can get back to fighting for economic justice and against Wall Street greed," he said.
The connection to the chain and the Fox case seemed curious. Law enforcement DNA databases have numerous samples collected from various pieces of evidence but never identified with a particular suspect. Matches periodically pop up as new samples are entered, and the process begins of excluding anyone who could have handled the evidence in the course of the investigation.
Aside from crime lab and evidence collection unit workers, the medical examiner's office processes DNA for police. Spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said Wednesday all medical examiner personnel had been ruled out as a match, and the sample was still being investigated.