It’s been a long journey for Michael Usry Jr. and his family.
Briefly investigated in the 1996 murder of Angie Dodge two decades after the fact and based solely on a partial DNA match to his father, Usry’s life has been haunted by the case for nearly three years.
During that time he’s gone from being considered a suspect — or at least closely related to the suspect — in a murder case, based on one DNA test, to having his entire family cleared of suspicion by another more extensive DNA test.
The story about how he became entwined in a cold case murder investigation 1,900 miles from his home raises alarms about the potential misuse of DNA in criminal investigations and court proceedings, which could lead to false convictions.
A series of unfortunate coincidences
In December 2014, Detective James Hoffman filed an affidavit indicating that the Idaho Falls Police Department had submitted DNA samples from the crime scene to Sorenson Genomics. The company also offered a public DNA database for genealogical purposes in addition to genetic testing. Hoffman ran the DNA submitted as evidence against Sorenson’s genealogical DNA database, which was then public.
Hoffman wrote results showed a close but partial match to a Michael Usry Sr., who had voluntarily submitted DNA to a genealogical database years earlier through a project sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The affidavit outlined Hoffman’s reasons for wanting to collect DNA from Usry Jr. He produced graphic horror films, and a documentary about people who collect paraphernalia related to serial killers. His name was Michael, matching one of the numerous names Christopher Tapp had given under interrogation for the third man who was supposed to have committed the crime (after police suggested that there had been a third person). Usry also had Facebook friends with family in Rigby.
So on a winter day the New Orleans filmmaker was suddenly pulled into a police station, questioned…