The story was so peculiar that you knew there had to be at least one more shoe poised to drop.
Last night, the local NBC affiliate ran a story based on an unnamed source leaking the following information: There had been a break in the eight-years-cold investigation of the murder of Sarah Fox in Inwood. DNA evidence recovered from her CD player, found near her corpse, matched DNA taken from a chain used to hold open a subway door in the fare strike conducted by wildcat transit union members and Occupy Wall Street affiliated activists.
The appeared to be based on a single unnamed source, seemingly speaking from within the NYPD investigation, though the NBC story didn’t so much as identify the basis of the source’s expertise.
More peculiar was the fact that the police already had a main “person of interest” in the case — Dimitry Sheinman, a figure unconnected to Occupy Wall Street — well before the DNA evidence surfaced. Buried deep in the story was the information that, the DNA revalation notwithstanding, “Sheinman remains a leading person of interest.”
NBC’s headline “DNA links Occupy protest scene to 2004 murder” linked the murder to the political movement, but compared to the frenzy of piggy-backing stories that followed, it was relatively circumspect. The Daily Mail probably took the prize with “Is an Occupy Wall Street killer on the loose? DNA in NY subway linked to 2004”
Then this afternoon, the New York Times raised the first red flag. Times court reporter William Rashbaum talked to someone briefed on the investigation who told him the reason for the DNA match was contamination: both the DNA from the CD player and the DNA from the chain actually belonged to a lab supervisor in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which was examining the evidence.
“The O.C.M.E. tainted the samples and it was the O.C.M.E. supervisor’s whose DNA was on both,” the person said.
NBC backpedaled its own scoop, citing another unnamed source as saying “An error may have occurred at an NYPD lab.”
Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the Medical Examiner’s office, told the Times she denied the suggestion that the Medical Examiner’s office could have contaminated the samples. She did not respond to calls from the Village Voice this afternoon.
This story may yet turn into a centipede with lots more shoes to drop. Many Occupy Wall Street loyalists are certain the story is part of a smear campaign organized by the NYPD, but there’s still a lot we don’t know.
Maybe we’ll learn definitively that the lab botched the results. Maybe someone who touched the chain in the roughly four hours after the protesters put it up and left is the long-sought killer. Maybe, for that matter, we’ll learn that a craven murderer has been taking part in protests against economic inequality, which may or may not prove that only craven murderers protest economic inequality.
In the meantime, there are some questions about how this information was leaked, why it happened when it did, and what interests the leak serves.
Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer who is currently litigating multiple cases in which selective NYPD leaks have apparently been used to slant public perception of a case, said the leak in the Fox case can only serve to tip off the murderer, assuming the DNA link is legitimate.
“I can’t see any legitimate law enforcement purpose to leaking that kind of information,” Vaccaro said. “It raises the question of what other purpose they might have. It certainly doesn’t speak well for the department in terms of its ability to control leaks.”