Wichita police complied with a court order Tuesday and destroyed more than 1,300 DNA swabs that were taken as part of the BTK investigation. Manila envelopes containing swabs were tossed several hundred at a time into a portable incinerator at the Police Department’s firing range.

After 10 minutes in a propane-fueled incinerator that is usually used to destroy ammunition, all that was left was a light gray powder the consistency of cigarette ashes. The destruction of the evidence marked the end of a sometimes-controversial process in which police asked for DNA samples from hundreds of people whom callers to BTK tip lines named as suspects.

Although some considered the process an invasion of privacy, Deputy Chief Robert Lee said their concerns should be eased knowing the samples had been destroyed.

In a typical criminal case, a DNA sample can be used to prepare a profile that can then be stored on a computer. But Lee and other police officials said no such profiles were used in the BTK testing. They said all DNA evidence in the case had now been purged from investigative files.

With the BTK case solved and Dennis Rader serving a life sentence for 10 murders, District Judge Greg Waller ordered the swabs destroyed on Oct. 12. Police and prosecutors blamed the delay in carrying out the order on an innocent oversight by investigators and the time required to complete paperwork. Not everyone was satisfied by that explanation.

Wichita psychologist Bernie Mermis, a former Wichita State University professor, said he was probably swabbed because of BTK’s known ties to the university. He said he didn’t give it much thought when detectives showed up at his door and asked for a DNA sample.

“I certainly wouldn’t do it again, not without some clear guidelines about what would happen to the sample,” he said. Mermis said he now realizes that scientists can use a DNA sample to glean information about a person’s relatives or health. “I think are some very significant problems with these DNA sweeps,” he said.

Wichita lawyer Dan Monnat, whose firm represents a man who was forced by a court order to give a DNA sample in the BTK investigation, said he was leery of the process. “I think any time law enforcement officers show up at your doorstep and forcibly or unforcibly obtain bodily fluids from you, there’s some invasion of privacy,” he said.

All content © 2006 THE WICHITA EAGLE and may not be republished without permission.

The Wichita Eagle – By Hurst Laviana