It was a tantalizing tabloid story — Occupy Wall Street tied to murder — but was it simply the product of human error?
Wednesday morning, major media outlets reported that DNA found on a chain used at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in March had been tied to a New York City cold-case. The chain had been used to prop open an emergency exit at a subway station. DNA from the chain, reports said, had been matched to a CD player belonging to Sarah Fox, a Juilliard student who was found murdered in Inwood Hill Park in 2004.
“OWS shock in unsolved ‘04 Sarah slay,” read a New York Post headline, followed by the subheadline: “DNA match from B’klyn subway protest.” NBC New York went with: “DNA from Sarah Fox Murder Scene Linked to Chain Used in Occupy Wall Street Protest.” Many other outlets ran similar articles.
But by late Wednesday afternoon, anonymous sources were coming forward to undercut the story. A person “briefed on the investigation” told The New York Times that the DNA came from a New York Police Department employee who works with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Another person said the DNA came from a supervisor in the Police Department’s laboratory, which also does DNA testing.
Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the city’s medical examiner’s office, told the paper that “[w]e’ve excluded all medical examiner’s office personnel,” but added that, “[w]e are still actively investigating the match.”
Meanwhile, a source told The New York Daily News that the NYPD employee in question had processed evidence from both cases, and would “likely” face departmental charges. The Daily News reported that it was unclear if the “worker was assigned to the police crime lab or to the Medical Examiner’s office.”
“The investigation is ongoing,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday, according to the Daily News. “We’re not going to be able to solve every crime. I wish we were able to.”
The NYPD told TPM Thursday morning that the department had no comment on the latest reports of the DNA match.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com