NBC News New York reported earlier this week that the New York Police Department had linked evidence in the 2004 unsolved murder of Julliard student Sarah Fox to an Occupy Wall Street protester, reporting that the evidence “seemed to come out of nowhere.” Indeed.
Later that afternoon, the New York Times was already debunking its own article on the story – and the myriad of other media who picked it up – reporting that the link was most likely an error, with the DNA in question belonging to an NYPD lab technician who handled evidence from both cases.
Police had taken DNA evidence from a chain at the scene of a March 28th action that saw activists chain open the Beverly Road subway gates in East Brooklyn (among other stops), providing free admission to the subway for a number of commuters that morning. This action was not an Occupy Wall Street-sanctioned action, although it is believed that some OWS-affiliated activists acting independently of OWS, and with some wildcat MTA workers, were responsible for the action.
The DNA on the chain was said to have matched DNA found on Sarah Fox’s CD player, which was found near her body, in Inwood Park in 2004.
Although the scene of the MTA-action was not the scene of violence or murder, the NYPD looked for DNA there, and then used its vast database of DNA (of both criminal and non-criminal offenders) to look for a link between the MTA-action and any DNA matches in its database.
The story was picked up by numerous outlets, including the New York Post, the New York Times, the Village Voice, New York Magazine, Gawker and Gothamist; as well as CNBC, ABC News, and of course Fox News with the headline “Occupy Wall Street Murder Link.”
In its retraction, the New York Times wrote that, “The decision by investigators to search for DNA samples on the chain, which was used to hold open a subway entrance gate, illustrates how such collections have become a routine part of a wide range of criminal investigations.” This despite what many in criminal justice know about DNA: that while it can be a particularly powerful identification tool, it is still a piece of evidence and should be weighed with the context of the case in mind.
Dimitry Sheinman remains the “person of interest” in the case.
(originally aired in tv form at Occupy Public Access TV)