Peterson: Disappearance & Arrest

April 15, 2003

Identification likely to come from DNA

Investigators are likely to rely on DNA samples to determine whether the remains found on the shoreline north of Berkeley are those of missing Modesto woman Laci Peterson and her baby.

"If there are no fingerprints or dental (evidence), then you have to go with the DNA," said Rex Cline, a coroner's deputy for Stanislaus

County, speaking in generic terms and not specifically about the Peterson case.

Which means that the time it takes to make a positive identification falls into the hands of the person peering into a microscope, another area deputy coroner said.

"It just depends on the lab and the priority they give it," said Al Ortiz, a San Joaquin County sheriff's deputy.

The adult body washed up along Point Isabel on Monday. The discovery came just a day after a person walking a dog found the body of a baby boy about a mile away.

Forensic pathologists frequently are summoned to the scene when a body is discovered. Forensic pathologists are licensed physicians who ultimately determine cause of death.

When the body is intact, they will work from a checklist, Cline said.

"They'll look for identifying features," he said. "Scars, tattoos, birthmarks."

They also will X-ray the body to look for fractures, deputy Ortiz said.

"They'll look to see if there were any previously known breaks they can match up," he said.

Meanwhile, law enforcement checks missing person listings to determine whether bodies match the physical descriptions of anyone reported missing.

Those who report someone missing must, by law, provide dental records after 30 days, Cline said.

If those elements are not available, examiners will go straight to DNA for identification.

In many cases, Cline said, concerned friends and relatives provide items that contain DNA, such as hair samples from the deceased, or clothing worn by them.

"And they can get DNA samples from the parents," Ortiz said.

Bee staff writer Jeff Jardine can be reached at 578-2383 or

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