By Christopher Zoukis
If you search your memory, you’ll probably find the one of the earliest, longest-lasting (and for most, now automatic) lessons you learned came from a parent instructing you in mechanics and ethics of bathroom behavior.
But because he apparently failed to recall or act on those early lessons, Andrew David Jensen, a 42-year-old man from Ventura, California, is being held in pre-trial custody in the Ventura County jail, unable to raise $180,000 bail, and is awaiting trial.
Last October, when police in the southern California city of Thousand Oaks were called to investigate a residential burglary, there weren’t many obvious clues. No neighbors or passersby had seen anyone surreptitiously enter or leave the home; the crime scene appeared to reveal no fingerprints or other obvious clues.
Then sharp-eyed (or possibly sharp-nosed) investigator had an inspiration, noticing one bathroom in the home appeared to have been recently used. Theorizing the solid evidence floating in the porcelain receptacle might have come not from the homeowner, but instead from the burglar deciding to take a bathroom break and being too preoccupied or indifferent to flush, a crime scene technician took a sample of the human waste and decided to send it to the Ventura County Forensic Services Bureau. It may be that you don’t recall having seen anything like that on any episode of CSI, but television shows understandably focus on the more glamorous aspects of forensic science.
When the technicians at the county’s Forensic Service Bureau had extracted a DNA sample from the specimen, they sent it to a national database to see if it could be matched. The database, which already had Jensen’s DNA on file from his earlier scrapes with the law, detected a match, and the county was notified in July. Local law enforcement picked Jensen up at his home, and charged him with suspicion of first-degree residential burglary.
There was no official statement on why it took almost a year from the time of the burglary to get a response on the DNA. In many areas, forensic labs have substantial backlogs, delaying reporting of results for considerable periods of time. Or perhaps the forensic technicians engaged in protracted arguments over which of them would have to process the specimen.
Speaking for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, a detective acknowledged most people, when hearing police identification of a culprit through DNA evidence, “usually think of hair samples or saliva,” but other bodily substances and fluids can also do the job. The detective did admit that he was not familiar with the substance in this case having been used to identify a burglary suspect before.
But in fact, a search of the crime archives of Ventura County revealed DNA from another example of excreted waste material had three years earlier help crack a cold case which had remained unsolved since 1997. In that crime, a teenager had been killed during the burglary of a home where investigators found unattributed human waste, and used it to identify a suspect who was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole last spring.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.