DNA Database Used to Bring Charges in Cold Case Killing

Thirteen years after a mother of nine was found naked and strangled to death, prosecutors announced the indictment in the case on Monday.

Joyce Williams was killed on a stairwell landing near the roof of the Wagner Housing Projects in Manhattan in July 1998. She was 41 years old and four-months pregnant at the time.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office says the man responsible for her death, John Price, 49, has now been charged with murder in the second degree.

New evidence in the case came from the New York State DNA databank. Governor Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State address earlier this month announced he would propose legislation that would expand the databank to include everyone convicted of a crime.

Price was convicted of the rape and murder of Pamela Watson in the Bronx in April 1998. Like Williams, she was found naked and strangled on the rooftop landing of a building.  He is currently serving a 67 year prison term for Waton's death, another rape conviction and assault.

“Thousands of crime victims are waiting for justice,” Manhattan District Attorney, Cy Vance, who’s been a strong advocate of the DNA database expansion, said in a statement on Monday. “Convicted offenders stand to be exonerated, and scores of future crimes could be prevented if Governor Cuomo’s important legislation is enacted.”

The DNA database was created in 1994, and has been expanded four times. The list of designated offenses currently includes all penal law felonies and 36 specified penal law misdemeanors. The expanded databank would include DNA from all criminal defendants convicted of any felony or penal law misdemeanor.

Currently, DNA is collected from those convicted of less than 50 percent of the crimes, and there are nearly 38,000 unidentified DNA profiles in the databank, according to the Manhattan DA’s Office.

The databank has provided leads in over 2,700 convictions and led to 27 exonerations of the wrongfully accused, according to the Governor’s Office.

But some civil rights advocates have opposed the expansion. Donna Lieberman, the director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that “rigorous quality assurance protocols” are needed to ensure the integrity of the state’s DNA databank.

“We’re encouraged by the governor’s recognition of the need for safeguards in the state’s DNA database” Lieberman said. “Sadly, New York isn’t CSI and in the real world DNA is not infallible.”

Price was supposed to be arraigned on Monday, but it was postponed for later this week as he did not have an attorney.

“Justice is served, and I’m glad,” said Joylena Hines, 22, one of Williams’ six kids who came to court on Monday. “Whatever he [Price] gets, he deserves.”