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William F. Connell School of Nursing

DNA Debacle

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David Deakin at Boston College’s Robsham Theater

"It was a powerful thing to be a part of," Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney David Deakin said of the 2006 case. Sexual assault nurse examiner Kristi Holden is pictured in the background.

On March 24, Fred Rothenberg, producer of NBC’s Dateline, David Deakin, assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, and sexual assault nurse examiner Kristi Holden visited Boston College’s Robsham Theater to speak about the limitations of DNA evidence. The event, entitled “DNA Debacle,” was part of a series sponsored by the forensic nursing program at the William F. Connell School of Nursing. 

The trio told the story of a 2006 rape case in Boston that was featured on NBC’s Dateline, in which the victim was raped in her Dorchester home. DNA collected at the scene identified the alleged rapist, Darrin Fernandez, but complications arose when it was noted that Fernandez had an identical twin brother with matching DNA. 

 “If it was just two rapes in Dorchester, we wouldn’t tell the story,” said Rothenberg, who produces Dateline. “There was an act of betrayal between two brothers. It was a very human story.”

Fernandez’s lawyer worked to introduce doubt to the jury because of the twins’ identical DNA, but Fernandez was ultimately convicted based on traditional evidence and the testimony of one of Fernandez’s previous rape victims. 

Holden, the sexual assault nurse examiner responsible for performing the “rape kit” tests to collect evidence from the case’s victim, explained the importance of the victim’s body as part of the crime scene. She added that, until the time of the trial, she was unaware that identical twins have matching DNA.

This case illustrates the importance of traditional evidence—like that collected by sexual assault nurse examiners—and detective work in crimes where DNA evidence may not be enough for a conviction.

“In the normal case it’s game over if a rapist’s DNA is matched,” said Deakin. “[This case] was a powerful thing to be a part of.”

The event was the largest in a series of lectures organized by the forensic nursing program. In February, Sergeant Pi Heseltine of the Massachusetts State Police spoke about drug-assisted sexual assault. Last November, forensic anthropologist Ann Marie Mires lectured on the use of forensics in large-scale disasters like September 11, and in October, David Adams, author of the book Why Do They Kill? Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners, spoke about domestic violence homicide.

Click here to read an article about the event in the Boston College Heights »