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Southside Strangler Case Study

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The Southside Strangler: The Advent of DNA Exploration and Testing Forever Changed the Criminal Justice System

Timothy Wilson Spencer, more commonly known as the Southside Strangler, became a household name in Virginia due to his ravenous rape and murder spree. In 1987, Spencer killed his first victim, soon followed by three others. Joe Horgas, the main detective on the case, used the evidence discovered in his extensive DNA research and investigation to send Spencer to trial. On July 16, 1988, this evidence made it’s mark on history by exponentially advancing DNA usage. It did so by starting a major revelation in accurate identification methods and increasing the need for DNA technology. The need for DNA research broadened amongst scientists
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DNA was only gaining momentum in 1980, when Sir Alec Jeffreys discovered something that would change our world, DNA Profiling. DNA profiling is the use or extraction of human cells to be profiled. Whether they are fresh or dried-out, the cells can be tested. (Suzanne Elvidge, “Forensic Cases: Colin Pitchfork, First Exoneration Through DNA”) Sir Jeffreys first started the process of discovering genomics ability to advance our society by applying this to different types of DNA. By doing so, Jeffreys discovered that there are billions of variations in DNA sequences. In fact, the human body has 10 million different sites at which one person’s DNA sequence can vary from another’s. (University of Leicester, “The Science Behind Genetic Fingerprinting”) Jeffreys’ discovery then allowed for DNA profiling to be used in the United Kingdom, where Sir Jeffreys conducted his research. With the research and testing performed in Europe, DNA profiling was now applicable in the United States. Detectives such as Joe Horgas took advantage of this…show more content…
Without the Timothy Wilson Spencer investigation and similar trials in the United States and the United Kingdom, the way our current criminal justice system functions would not be possible. Before DNA testing, the only way to identify someone was using blood and identifying the blood type. Though it does narrow down possible suspects, plenty of people share the same blood type. With the research of Sir Alec Jeffreys and his discovery that there are billions of personalized DNA sequences, there is no possibility that there would be misidentification. In addition to this, Jeffrey's research also taught DNA researchers worldwide that DNA can exonerate people as well as convict them. With Detective Horgas and the Behavioral Science Unit also helping improve techniques that help cases using DNA such as ‘linkage blindness” and analyzing a serial killer’s signature or common traits amongst their murders, the modern-day DNA investigative process would be nowhere similar to what it is today. Similarly, without improvements in the DNA process in a trial, the questionability of the company Lifecode in Spencer’s trial could arise in current trials. In all, without Timothy Wilson Spencer’s investigation, trial, and conviction, knowledge of DNA exploration would not be the same. Research
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