DNA advancements help solve Shaw student’s murder

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – Old evidence retested nearly two decades later helped convict Edwin Lawing and lock him up for life.

On Monday, a jury in Wake County found Lawing guilty of murdering Shaw University student Lacoy McQueen in 1996.

RELATED: Guilty verdict reached in trial of 1996 Shaw Univ. student’s murder

Advancements in DNA testing helped crack the cold case.

Dr. Jim Evans is a professor of genetics and medicine at UNC. He says there have been two major shifts over the last few decades when it comes to DNA.

First, scientists in the lab can dig deeper with a lot less material.

“Twenty to 30 years ago, one needed, gosh, thousands of times more DNA than you do now,” said Evans.

Today, a single cell can be amplified and analyzed.

Evans says another major change is that they’re now far better at DNA sequencing.

“Geneticists have been able to sequence the genomes of Neanderthals,” he said. “That’s 18,000-year-old DNA that’s been sitting in a cave.”

As much as advanced technology is helping close cases, it’s also shedding light on wrongful convictions.

“It has the power to exonerate innocent people who are falsely charged or tried in error,” Evans said. “So, that’s easily as important as its ability to find the perpetrators.”

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