Further Evidence of the Power of DNA Matches that Solve Violent Crimes

Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said today that a jury’s verdict of first-degree murder this week in a 1988 homicide in Redding is a powerful example of how DNA analysis conducted every day by state laboratories can “stop criminals from getting away with murder.”

“The Harper conviction, like the Grim Sleeper arrest earlier this month, is further evidence that DNA is becoming an increasingly important factor in fighting violent crime,” Brown said. “Work being done every day in our labs stops criminals from getting away with murder.”

Brian Harper, 40, was convicted Tuesday afternoon in a Redding court room for the 1988 murder of Judith Hasselstrom, 43, a Shasta County woman whose body was found in a local park. Investigators determined she had been strangled.

After Hasselstrom’s murder 22 years ago, blood was found on bamboo stalks that covered her body, but there was no way then to submit DNA from the blood for forensic analysis. DNA technology had yet to be developed for use in criminal investigations, but in 2002, investigators were able to test that blood sample to create a DNA profile of an unknown suspect in Hasselstrom’s murder. No suspects were identified, however, and for years, the evidence remained stored in the Redding Police Department’s “cold case” locker.

Harper’s DNA was collected after he was convicted of a 2007 bank robbery. Although Harper had never been a subject of the murder investigation, his DNA was tested and found to match the DNA found at the 1988 murder scene. State forensic scientists were also able to match two palm prints found on the bamboo stalks to Harper’s prints. Harper initially denied knowledge of Hasslestrom’s murder, but eventually admitted to killing her.

It was Redding’s first cold case homicide arrest involving a DNA hit. The Shasta County jury trial lasted three weeks and came back with its first-degree murder verdict after several days of deliberations. Harper is scheduled to be sentenced on September 10. He faces 25 years to life in prison.

Like the “Grim Sleeper,” the Harper case is an important example of how every day Brown’s forensic labs use DNA to solve violent crimes. Harper’s conviction illustrates the state’s DNA program is fulfilling its promise to make Californians safer and to bring criminals to justice. Each day, an average of nine “hits” are made in which forensic scientists match crime scene DNA to that of a suspect in the state database of 1.5 million offenders and arrestees.

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