Louisiana police demand DNA from white drivers

Washington Times 01/14/03: Hugh Aynesworth

Original Link:
http://www.washtimes.com/national/20030114-73728234.htm

BATON ROUGE, La. Police here are so intent on catching a suspect in the slayings of four women that they have resorted to pulling over white General Motors pickup trucks and asking the drivers to submit to DNA tests.

Such investigative methods have provoked protests from civil libertarians.

"These people were branded guilty until proven innocent," said Joe Cook, longtime director of the Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union.

Police have matched the killer's DNA with four slayings here and in Lafayette, about 50 miles to the west, since September of 2001. In two of the crimes, a white, single-cab GM-built pickup truck was seen close to the site of the killing near the time of the death.

Some people recalled seeing a fish painted on the cab; others remember a partial license plate number that included the letters J and T and the numbers 3, 4 and 1.

An areawide task force has checked out more than 9,000 leads, officers here say. But police still don't have a suspect in the four killings that have created terror in the region in recent months.

But as officers continue to go door to door running down tips, investigators began stopping white pickups and, in some instances, asking drivers to submit to DNA tests. Most complied, but some who balked were publicly embarrassed.

"What would these people have to lose if indeed they weren't guilty?" asked one Baton Rouge police official on the condition of anonymity. "Hey, we're all in this together."

Mr. Cook of the ACLU said that in this manhunt the only "probable cause" to choose someone to be examined for DNA seemed to be that he was driving a white pickup truck or that some anonymous tipster had phoned in his name. He said that was "not credible evidence enough to target anyone."

Figures were not available yesterday on how many men had been tested, but in Baton Rouge the number passed 850 just after New Year's Day. In Lafayette, Sheriff Mike Neustrom said last week that officials planned to test at least 100 men.

"It's been proven time and time again that this type of targeting is bad police procedure," Mr. Cook said.

Though many men volunteered to be tested, some seemed to be coerced, he added.

An Associated Press story last week last, Shannon Kohler, a 44-year-old Baton Rouge welder, refused to take a DNA test at first but then was served with a warrant forcing him to submit. The warrant was based on a 20-year-old burglary conviction for which Mr. Kohler had received a pardon.

Police said two tipsters also mentioned Mr. Kohler's name and that he had once worked near where a cell phone belonging to the killer's first known victim had been discovered.

"It was either submit or get arrested," Mr. Kohler said, adding, "They could have eliminated me as a suspect in other ways."

The first death attributed to this serial killer was Gina Wilson Green, 41, who was found strangled in her Baton Rouge home Sept. 24, 2001. Charlotte Murray Pace, 22, was found fatally stabbed in her home May 31, 2002.

Next was Pam Kinamore, 41, abducted from her home July 12. Her body was found, with her throat slit, about 30 miles west of Baton Rouge toward Lafayette.

The most recent was Trineisha Dene Colomb, 23, of Lafayette, who was reported missing Nov. 22. Her body was found two days later about 20 miles away. She had been killed by blunt trauma to the head.

As with the Kinamore case, a witness reported seeing a white truck near where Miss Colomb's car had been abandoned.

Police have encountered many false leads and even a copycat killer in a parish just west of here.

On New Year's Eve, police said, Theodore LaFontaine, 40, bludgeoned his girlfriend, Jo Ann Zachery, 40, to death after an argument. He got his niece, Katina LaFontaine, to help him clean up.

Together, they dropped the body into a drainage ditch and covered it with leaves, police said.

Then they drove about six miles to a spot near where Miss Colomb's body had been found and left the victim's personal items in her vehicle, police said.

Mr. LaFontaine then called police to report his girlfriend's disappearance and gave an alibi which has been challenged.

He said he had been to a local gambling establishment, but surveillance tapes showed every entrant, and he wasn't among them, police said. He is not suspected in the serial killings.

"They can relax," said Opelousas Police Chief Larry Caillier, referring to the families of the victims in the serial killings. "This is not connected with theirs."










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