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Process to ID Hacienda suspect was quick, thorough, says forensics expert

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX – In a matter of hours, a suspect’s court-ordered DNA sample led to his arrest this week on sexual assault charges of a patient at a long-term care facility in Phoenix.

The speed in which the suspect, Nathan Sutherland, a 36-year-old nurse at Hacienda HealthCare, was identified, didn’t surprise Kimberly Kobojek, a former Phoenix Police forensic scientist.

The case, “had to have been the sole focus” for the investigation team, Kobojek said Thursday on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News, the day after police announced Sutherland’s arrest.

A clinical associate professor of mathematical and natural sciences at Arizona State University West, Kobojek spent 17 years working in the Phoenix crime lab and volunteered in Mesa’s, as well.

“To identify a potential suspect, I believe the DNA was enough,” she said.

Sutherland was taken into custody Tuesday shortly after police received the results of the testing.

The victim, 29, has been at the facility for the majority of her life. She is severely incapacitated and has “significant intellectual disabilities,” according to the family lawyer.

She gave birth to a boy Dec. 29. Police launched an investigation that night, citing because of the woman’s physical condition she was not in a position to give consent to intercourse.

“You can have the DNA profile from the child, as well as from the mother and from those two individuals you can develop an inferred potential father profile,” Kobojek said.

“From there, you can get another piece of that investigative link .. to look at someone closer.”

DNA evidence can be wrong, Kobojek said, but it was rare.

Even though a suspect is behind bars, the work at the crime lab isn’t finished.

“There are more than likely additional investigations into this individual,” she said, “in addition to the rest of the samples being tested from the other men that worked at the Hacienda facility and whether or not there’s going to be collections of samples … of any other potential victims.”

Police Chief Jeri Williams said she hadn’t ruled out the possibility of additional charges against Sutherland or that there could be more victims.

The investigation was ongoing, Williams said.

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