One man who was recently convicted of murder in the U.K., partially based on his cat’s DNA being found at the crime scene, realized there is no tinkering when it comes to hard evidence.
David Hilder was convicted of manslaughter not by his own DNA, but by his cat’s DNA. Tinker’s DNA was found on a shower curtain wrapped around the dismembered body of Hilder’s friend and neighbor, David Guy.
The body was found on a beach in England in July 2012.
"This is the first time cat DNA has been used in a criminal trial in the U.K.," Jon Wetton of the University of Leicester told the Associated Press. "This could be a real boon for forensic science, as the 10 million cats in the U.K. are unwittingly tagging the clothes and furnishings in more than a quarter of households."
Human DNA technology has been helping investigators solve crimes for nearly two decades, but using animal DNA to trace criminals is a relatively new and unused science.
In the Hilder case, investigators asked The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, to gather DNA samples from 152 cats to test the reliability of the feline DNA evidence found at the crime scene.
"Only three of the samples obtained matched the hairs from the crime scene," Wetton explains. This suggested that while the match wasn't perfect, there was still a high probability that hairs at the scene came from Tinker. "No one's going to be convicted on this alone, but if it's helping to reinforce other sorts of evidence then you can paint a picture in the jury's mind," Wetton says.
There was other evidence, such as blood in Hilder’s apartment, which was enough to secure the conviction. Hilder was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 12 years before he is eligible for parole.
A dog database also exists, which was developed for a case in London that helped convict a man whose dog’s DNA was found at a stabbing scene. Authorities hope to continue to use both databases to help solve crimes.
Tinker is now living with a new family, unaware that she helped solve a murder mystery.