New Hampshire officials said on Thursday that they have used genetic genealogy technology to solve a murder case dating back four decades. On the morning of September 28, 1981, the body of Laura Kempton, then 23 years old, was found in her Portsmouth apartment. She had been out with a buddy and was entering on her own.
According to the autopsy, she died from severe head injuries on the left side. Despite investigating hundreds of possible suspects and leads, police were unable to positively identify the perpetrator based on the evidence of a male DNA profile. Up until this point.
The culprit, Ronney James Lee, was publicly named on Thursday when officials began reanalyzing murder scene DNA samples in 2022 using forensic genetic genealogy techniques. Lee, who was 21 when the Kempton died, passed away on February 9, 2005, at the age of 45, from acute cocaine abuse.
The following tweet provides confirmation that genetic genealogy technology was used to solve a cold case that dates back four decades:
A four-decade-old murder has been solved with the help of genetic genealogy technology, according to officials in New Hampshire. https://t.co/8ezA2vMYJr
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) July 20, 2023
John Formella, the former New Hampshire attorney general, claimed he would have filed charges of first-degree murder against Lee for his role in bringing about her death during a s*xual assault if he were still alive. “It is my hope that this conclusion and announcement will be the long-awaited first step in providing what closure the criminal justice system can provide for Laura Kempton’s family and community,” Formella said.
“The Portsmouth Police Department should be commended for its commitment and perseverance in seeking justice for Ms. Kempton and her family.” The case has been marked as solved, Formella said at a press conference on Thursday, while he acknowledged the news may be “bittersweet” for Kempton’s family.
The family of Kempton released a statement through Formella’s office expressing “deep gratitude” to the police of Portsmouth for solving the case. “Their diligence and determination, along with extraordinary personal commitment over the past decades, have led to this moment for Laura,” the family’s statement said.
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According to the attorney general’s investigation, Kempton was working at a local gift shop and attending Portsmouth Beauty School to become a hairstylist when she tragically lost her life. “She was consistently described by those who knew her as an outgoing free spirit with a big personality and a love for new wave fashion,” the report stated.
In 2021, after searching multiple databases for years without success, police contemplated adopting forensic genetic genealogy via whole genome sequencing, “which had recently developed as a viable option for suspect identification in cold cases,” according to the paper. According to the report, Lee was identified as the culprit in May 2022 thanks to a DNA profile match with two distant relatives in a public genetic genealogy database maintained by a third party.
According to the report, in June, authorities discovered that DNA samples taken from Kempton’s apartment after the attack matched those of Lee, including one taken from a cigarette butt. The evidence “establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Ronney James Lee committed first-degree murder,” the report said.
The evidence, according to the prosecution, points to a “calculated” break-in and “s*xually motivated crime that resulted in more violence than the perpetrator originally anticipated.” The report claimed a glass bottle was used as the murder weapon.
“Laura was a victim of an unspeakable act of violence,” Portsmouth Police Chief Mark Newport stated at a press conference. “The members of the Portsmouth Police Department have never forgotten about Laura and any of the other victims of our unsolved homicides,” he added.
According to their research, Lee remained a member of the United States Army until 1981. According to the report, he spent the years between December 1987 and July 1990 in a New Hampshire state prison after being convicted in 1987 of charges originating from a burglary that involved a s*xual assault in Keene.
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