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New forensic technology, techniques led to arrest in 1996 Caledonia Twp. cold case

New advancements in forensic genetic genealogy led to the arrest of an individual thought to have been involved in the 1996 murder of Sharon Hammack.

CALEDONIA, Mich. — More than 25 years after Sharon Hammack was found raped and murdered in Caledonia Township, new advancements in forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) have led to the arrest of an individual police believe to be involved in the case.

Garry Dean Artman, 64, of Florida was arrested last week on charges of Homicide, Open Murder, Homicide, Felony Murder and Criminal Sexual Conduct 1st Degree in relation to the case.

The break in the case came from a lead that was developed from the FGG technique.

FGG is a relatively new investigative technique that combines the latest in DNA analysis advancements with traditional genealogy research to help generate leads in ongoing criminal cases.

The technology can also be used to help identify remains of victims when traditional methods cannot do so.

FGG strays from the traditional forensic DNA typing and focuses on single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which allows scientists to identify shared blocks of DNA between a forensic sample and the sample donor’s potential relatives.

This new technique allows police to develop leads based on DNA evidence from the initial case, but it still requires everyday policework to take it from a lead to charges.

"It really isolates a family of individuals that might be viable candidates, but really, it takes good old fashioned police work to narrow down from that point, because the pool can be very large can be hundreds of people, it can be a handful of people. But we have to establish probable cause to believe that person committed the offense before they're brought in custody. And before we can even get a DNA sample from them to match against the original cases. So there's a lot of work. But this is very promising," said Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young.

The new investigative technique first gained notoriety when it led to the arrest of the Golden State Killer and subsequently his conviction on 13 counts of murder and kidnapping.

In West Michigan, FGG has led to charges in two homicide cold cases in Caledonia Township and Niles.

The Michigan State Police (MSP) Forensic Science Division began a FGG pilot program with money from a federal grant last year. The MSP currently does not have the technology to perform FGG, but the grant allows the department to send out cases for FGG analysis.

So far, about a dozen cases in Michigan have been sent out for identifying suspects and/or victims using the technology.

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