New DNA facial profile technology aids police in Brittani Marcell case


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – For the first time the Albuquerque Police Department used a newer technology that uses DNA samples to help create an image of what that person might look like. The decision to use it just so happened to help detectives crack a nearly decade old cold case.

Earlier this month, police arrested Justin Hansen on new DNA evidence from a cup, which they said links him to the brutal beating of Brittani Marcell.

After nearly ten years and no arrests APD exhausted all of its leads in the attack that almost killed the then 17-year-old Cibola High senior.

Marcell was in a coma. She woke up two weeks later with no memory of her attacker, until last year when she remembered the name “Justin Hansen.”

“Because this case was so old and there was no leads, we just had a name,” Officer Simon Drobik said.

But detectives had one more thing: DNA evidence left behind at the 2008 crime scene after they determined Marcell’s attacker cut himself jumping through a window to escape.

Using a sample of the DNA left behind at the scene.

APD took the investigation one step further and utilized a newer technology out of Virginia, called Parabon Snapshot DNA.

“You get a sample of the DNA and they’re able to recreate an image,” Ofc. Drobik said. “It’s an exclusion process, you can exclude 49 people and get down to the one person.”

Law enforcement agencies across the nation are now utilizing the process to help narrow suspect lists and generate leads. The process takes DNA samples and produces trait predictions for persons of interest to include what color of eyes, hair, and skin they would have, even down to the shape of their face.

According to Parabon’s website, Snapshot composites are “scientific approximations of appearance based on DNA and are not likely to be exact replicas of appearance.”

In this case, Parabon Snapshot came up with a composite profile using a DNA sample found at the crime scene. A sample detectives said linked Hansen to the crime.

The Snapshot shows two photos, one is the profile, the other is Hansen’s old mugshot.

“If you’re looking at both pictures side-by-side, it’s jaw dropping,” Ofc. Drobik said. “It’s amazing, the detectives were like, ‘Well, now we have something and someone to focus on.’”

APD stressed the investigation tool is only there to help exclude possible suspects, not add any to the case.

“For the $3,100 investment, we know it’s going to pay dividends because we were able to exclude hundreds of hours of time trying to investigate this crime,” Ofc. Drobik said. “It will bring justice to those who need it and I’m sure it will start closing cold cases rapidly.”

APD said it will only explore the option of using this technology on homicides, rapes and other cold cases.

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