Archive for the ‘DNA’ Category
Nearly two decades have passed since I watched serial killer Timothy Spencer, The Southside Strangler, die in the electric chair. I knew the details of the case, including that Spencer had been released from prison after serving three years on a ten year sentence for burglary. His release from prison, however, was conditional. He was to live in a state-run halfway house for a predetermined amount of time. The year was 1984. DNA testing was not yet available to law enforcement.
Spencer was allowed to “check out” of the halfway house on weekends. I assume he, like others serving part of their sentences in halfway houses, was allowed to go out to work or search for employment, attend religious services and AA and NA meetings, see a doctor or dentist, shop for clothing, and leave the halfway house on weekends.
During Spencer’s weekends away from the halfway house is when he added other, unauthorized, stops to his schedule. During an eleven week span Spencer visited quiet suburban neighborhoods where broke into the homes of four women. In each of the break-ins, he attacked the women, bound their hands, and then brutally raped and killed them. His murder weapon in three of the four cases was a cleverly designed ligature that tightened more and more as the victim struggled. Detectives weren’t able to locate a single shred of discernible evidence at either of the crime scenes, but they collected any and everything they thought might help locate the killer, including samples of the murderer’s semen.
Finally, a relentless investigator named Joe Horgas heard that British police had identified a killer through DNA matches of blood and semen. Horgas then contacted a lab that specialized in DNA testing and they agreed to help. Horgas soon received the news he’d been hoping to hear—Spencer’s DNA matched the semen samples collected by detectives. Spencer was then arrested, tried, and convicted. It was four years after the first rape and murder.
Timothy Spencer was the first killer in the U.S. sentenced to die based on DNA evidence. I watched him die, and believe me, death by electrocution is far from being a passive exit from this world. A man moaning and breathing hard during lethal injection has nothing on those who’ve ridden Old Sparky on the journey to wherever it is they go after all is said and done. But it is what it is.
Now, back to Spencer and his last day alive on this planet. I mentioned earlier that he showed no signs of remorse, and that he’d offered no final words. But, as years have passed, I’ve often wondered (who knows why) what Spencer had selected as his final meal. I’ve never found out, but here’s why I mentioned it.
Recently, a Cornell University study has concluded that a condemned person’s last meal selection can actually shed a little light as to his/her true guilt or innocence.
For example, researcher Kevin Kniffin, found that inmates who perceive themselves as innocent likely request a meal of fewer calories, or they decline to receive a last meal altogether (Kniffin’s study included the last meals of 247 people who were executed in the United States between 2002 and 2006).
Further, inmates who claimed innocence were 2.7 times more likely to decline a last meal than those who admitted guilt.
Interestingly, Kniffin’s research concluded that those who readily admitted guilty requested 34% more calories and were more likely to request brand name food items.
For example, those who denied guilt requested meals containing approximately 2,000 calories, and that’s if they chose to eat a final meal at all. Death row prisoners who admitted their guilt requested a last supper of approximately 2,800 calories. Those who remained silent, neither confessing guilt or sticking to a claim of “I didn’t do it,” asked for a meal of approximately 2,100 calories.
So, you be the judge. Guilty or Innocent?
1. John Wayne Gacy – 12 fried shrimp, a bucket of original recipe KFC, french fries, and a pound of strawberries.
2. Ted Bundy – steak (medium rare), eggs (over easy), hash browns, toast with butter and jelly, milk and juice.
3. Victor Feguer – a single unpitted olive presented on a ceramic plate and accompanied with a knife and fork.
4. Timothy McVeigh – two pints of mint and chocolate chip ice cream
*By the way, Patricia Cornwell’s first book was based on Spencer’s case.
Last week I was just an average guy. I was born in an average size town situated in a small state where not much goes on, well, unless you count the state fair, fishing, and raising chickens. Lots and lots of chickens.
Things changed for me just a couple of days ago, when I learned that my lineage began in East Africa where the ancestors on my mother’s side, who were among the first people to leave their homeland, moved northward to follow good weather and plentiful game. The arduous trek took them along the banks of the Nile where water was plentiful, for a change. Their descendants eventually wound up in the Mediterranean region and western Asia, where they hung out with Neanderthals. Now, this was some 60,000 years ago, so “hanging out” merely meant to co-exist, not yuck it up together at the local cave bar while sipping on dinosaur dung daiquiris.
Along the same time, my father’s ancestors also journeyed out of Africa to the Middle East, India, and Europe. They were hunters and gatherers. Actually, a fair number of these folks, Mbuti and Biaka Pygmies, remained in Africa (I guess I now understand the short stature of many of my relatives).
My father’s peeps, some of the first to arrive in Asia, Southeast Asia, and Australia (they were the ancestors of the Aborigines) eventually made their way to the Americas.
Sometime around 50,000 years ago (no, grandson, I know you think I’m old, but I was not alive back then), the males in my lineage gave rise to the genetic marker that is currently found in 90-95% of all non-Africans. This group had settled in the Middle East; however, the climate there grew colder, so, being nomadic, they moved on to bigger, better, and warmer places, traveling through what is now known as Iran, to Antolia (Turkey) and the Balkins. Our lineage is still found today in a small number of Pakistani’s.
Meanwhile, my mother’s ancestors, some now Cro-Magnon, had reached Europe. Their friends, the Neanderthals, had ceased to exist. My maternal ancestors’ lineage can still be found in people of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Arabia.
Near Endaselassie, Ethiopia
Still moving, many of my maternal ancestors settled into Western Europe, Asia, and southern portions of Russia. Some made their way back into Africa where they likely fell victim to the Arab slave trade.
So, with changing climate and the urge to travel (now I understand why Denene and I have moved so often over the years), a large number of my mother’s ancestors ended up in Rome and Athens. In fact, our particular marker is found in 40-60% of European populations.
So, as my mother’s people were finally establishing some roots in Europe, my paternal ancestors were still on the move. One specific marker in their genetic make up started in Central Asia, but moved on to Europe—the UK, Ireland, France, and Spain.
Part of my lineage can be found today in Russia, Northern Africa, the Balkins, Asia, and in approximately 55-58% of Western European lineages (43% of Central European lineages). Some made the journey to the Americas.
My male genes are strongly present in France, Ireland, and Spain. And our presence is known in Iraq, Lebanon, and Kazakhstan. I’m distantly related to Croatians, but more closely related to the Ashkenazi Jewish population.
Finally, my parents met, dated, and enjoyed spending time with each family, not really knowing a lot about either.
My mother’s grandmother was Native American (Cherokee), and I distinctly remember her long silky-black hair that remained dark even into her elder years. Her eyes were the color of burnt motor oil. She was a quiet and soft-spoken woman who loved to cook on the wood stove in her small kitchen. Everything was homemade, including the bread pudding and yeast rolls that I adored.
My great-grandmother was the only person in my immediate family of a different ethnic background, or so I thought. Never would I have expected to be related to Mbuti and Biaka Pygmies, or that my ancestors had been slaves. Sure, I knew that all man had originated in Africa, but I guess I never really thought about the journeys that took place during the thousands of years after my first genetic marker was born.
Having my DNA examined by the National Geographic Genegraphic Project certainly opened my eyes. The experiences took me on an adventure that began some 140,000 years ago, and will continue until men and women no longer exist. And, with all the troubles in the world today, the end of human existence may not be all that far away. I’m just saying…