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Expanded DNA databank provides another tool that could crack Sweeney case

DNA from missing persons, unidentified human remains now being uploaded into national databank
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Greater Sudbury Police say a law that recently came into effect that expands Canada's national DNA databank provides another tool that could crack the 20-year-old Renee Sweeney murder case. (Supplied)

Greater Sudbury Police say a law that recently came into effect that expands Canada's national DNA databank provides another tool that could crack the 20-year-old Renee Sweeney murder case.

Lindsey's Law, named after 14-year-old Lindsay Nicholls, who went missing on Vancouver Island in 1993, expands the databank to include DNA from missing persons, collected from personal effects such as toothbrushes.

It will also include DNA profiles from relatives of missing persons who have voluntarily made contributions, as well as from unidentified human remains.

The current DNA databank includes DNA from convicted offenders, as well as DNA collected from crime scenes.

Sweeney, a 23-year-old Laurentian University student, was stabbed to death at around 11 a.m. Jan. 27, 1998, while working at Adults Only Video on Paris Street.

The suspect, a white man in his early 20s, left his DNA on Renée's body, as well as on a jacket he discarded after the murder. 

The DNA collected at the scene has never been matched to anyone in the available DNA databases. The case remains unsolved.

“The Renee Sweeney suspect DNA is already in the crime scene index,” said Greater Sudbury Police Det. Staff Sgt. Jordan Buchanan.

“As the two new indexes that we can compare with start filling up with DNA, if that person was ever reported missing and that DNA collected, it will match to our crime scene.

“Or if human remains have been found anywhere in Canada, and that DNA is loaded into that index, it will match with our crime scene, and we'll know we've located the identity of the killer.”

Buchanan said he's not “super hopeful” the databank is going to provide a break in the Sweeney case. 

But “it's certainly another tool we didn't have before,” he said. “I think there may be a good prospect with the human remains portion of the databank. 

“The person that killed Renee Sweeney may have gone off and done something to themselves or been killed by misadventure and not been identified, which may be an explanation as to why we haven't had them come up on any of the investigative avenues we've had over the past 20 years.

“I think it's still a remote chance.”

Now that the new DNA databank is in place, Buchanan said Greater Sudbury Police will also be loading in all of the DNA from its historical unsolved missing persons cases — there's 10 stretching back to 1974.

“I'm hoping it will bring closure to some pretty awful cases,” he said.

The Sweeney case also received some attention earlier this month thanks to a sketch of a man the OPP believe is responsible for sexually assaulting a teen in Sioux Lookout in 2016.

Many people say the sketch of the suspect in the Sioux Lookout case bore a remarkable resemblance to composite images of the Sweeney suspect. 

Buchanan said he's been in touch with the OPP over this case, and the Sioux Lookout suspect has been ruled out in the Sweeney case.

A year ago, Greater Sudbury Police released a new composite image of the Sweeney murder suspect.

It was produced by Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia, using its Snapshot DNA Phenotyping Service. The technology attempts to predict appearance and ancestry from DNA samples.

Sudbury.com did a feature interview with Sweeney's sister Kim on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of her murder earlier this year. Click here to read it.