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What You Can’t See Might Solve the Case

Date Published
November 9, 2017

Sidebar to the article Sexual Assault Cases: Exploring the Importance of Non-DNA Forensic Evidence by Heather Waltke, Gerald LaPorte, Danielle Weiss, Dawn Schwarting, Minh Nguyen, and Frances Scott.

Latent fingerprints hold the potential to associate an individual perpetrator with high probability to a crime scene. In 1991, a 78-year-old widow, Lucille Johnson, was attacked and severely beaten in her home. Johnson died at the scene due to multiple blunt force injuries, and several personal possessions were missing. Through an NIJ Solving Cold Cases With DNA award,[1] the jurisdiction of Unified Police of Greater Salt Lake was able to reexamine the case records and evidence associated with Johnson’s homicide.

As a result, a CODIS match identified John Sansing as the contributor to a DNA sample recovered from evidence associated with the homicide. However, in addition to the DNA evidence, the cold case detectives noted that investigators recovered Legos building blocks from the scene. Johnson’s family insisted that she was a meticulous housekeeper and would not have left the toys out unless one of her grandchildren had visited.

The suspect was currently incarcerated for the brutal death of a social worker who was bringing supplies to the suspect’s family. Particularly disturbing is that he sexually assaulted and killed the social worker in the presence of his young children. Johnson’s family stated that she would not have let a stranger into her house unless perhaps the stranger had a child, such as Sansing’s then 5-year-old son. Using this information, detectives compared and matched the fingerprints found on the Legos blocks to the now-adult son of the suspect. The fingerprints on the Legos and the DNA CODIS match led to the arrest of John Sansing for the murder of Lucille Johnson. Sansing pled guilty to the Utah homicide; he is still incarcerated in Arizona and sentenced to death for the social worker’s homicide.[2]

This article was published as part of NIJ Journal issue number 279, April 2018, as a sidebar to the article Sexual Assault Cases: Exploring the Importance of Non-DNA Forensic Evidence by Heather Waltke, Gerald LaPorte, Danielle Weiss, Dawn Schwarting, Minh Nguyen, and Frances Scott.

Date Created: November 9, 2017