And Finally

Catching a killer

Police make arrest in longstanding murder case, after virus-related test


Did the Nanjing police use the coronavirus to help solve a murder case that had been languishing on their books for 28 years?

That’s what the Yangtze Evening News is suggesting after the arrest of a suspect almost 30 years after a medical student called Lin Ling was raped and beaten to death on the campus of Nanjing University.

The connection to the Covid-19 outbreak comes in the form of DNA testing – which the police have described as the crucial new evidence in supporting the arrest of the suspect.

The question is how the police found a match for the DNA sample (which was taken from the victim in 1992). The Yangtze Evening News thinks the breakthrough probably came as a result of testing a male relative of the suspect for the coronavirus – and most likely a man who was involved in government efforts to contain the outbreak.

If this is how the police came to arrest their new suspect – surnamed Ma – it raises questions about whether he knew that his results would be subject to DNA testing of this type and run through the database of cases of unsolved crimes.

The newspaper also reported that police took DNA samples from 11 other male members of the same family – and again it is not clear what they were told when the samples were taken.

The newspaper said local officers had refused to comment on this aspect of the case, although the police confirmed they had used DNA profiling to apprehend Ma but didn’t say what had led them to hone in on his family in the first place.

“The public security organs collected evidence for handling cases in strict accordance with legal regulations and strictly protected the personal information of citizens,” a spokesperson said.

Four years ago Chinese police were instructed to reduce more of their backlog of unsolved cases as part of a wider drive to root out corruption and restore public confidence in law enforcement.

Many cases have historically gone unsolved because the perpe-trators benefited from some kind of connection to local officials or local investigators – causing them to turn a blind eye (see WiC458).

The move to right these unpunished wrongs has been popular with the public, with a number of cases now resolved after long periods of disappointment and delay.

“Justice took a long time to come but it arrived in the end,” celebrated one weibo user in reaction to the news that Lin’s alleged killer had been caught. “Thank you to the police officers who never gave up,” said another.

But a few netizens raised questions about the ethics of the DNA collection in this particular case.

“Why would someone take your DNA if you are being tested for corona?” asked one. “I really want to know how they got the Ma family’s DNA,” queried another.

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