dna evidence

Rex Heuermann was arrested and charged with murder related to three of Gilgo Beach killings of local sex workers. At his arraignment, he exclaimed that he didn’t do it—he wasn’t the killer. The prosecution claims to have DNA hair samples, matching DNA pizza box samples, and burner phones. My friends and family immediately asked me, “What’s his defense?” He has two, but it’s really a combination of the two.

DNA Evidence

The DNA in the Gilgo Beach murders was collected a long time ago. Today we have advanced DNA technology that gives law enforcement far more tools than ever to prosecute a crime.

DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid, is a human molecule that contains the genetic instructions for the development, functioning, growth, and reproduction of all known living organisms and many viruses—DNA is a human fingerprint. The “building block of life.” DNA has the genetic information that we pass down from one generation to the next.

DNA sequencing technology is the most improved DNA technology over the last twenty years. Next-generation sequencing (NGS) allows police to have a faster and more accurate analysis of DNA. It has significantly increased the resolution and sensitivity of DNA profiling, allowing for more comprehensive identification of individuals from trace amounts of DNA.

In the Gilgo Beach case, law enforcement found trace DNA from hair samples at or near multiple murder victims and was able to collect DNA evidence that matched Heuermann and his wife. The DNA samples were very old, considering the history of the murders. Law enforcement recently trailed Heuermann and recovered a discarded pizza box, from which they were able to retrieve DNA to match the hair found at the murder scenes. Additionally, law enforcement claims they also matched DNA from Heuermann’s wife from the second hair sample.

DNA evidence in criminal cases is considered to be direct evidence in court. It’s concrete. A detective can point to the recovery of a hair sample, then point to the analysis and show the jury the evidence—actually hold the hair sample in evidence bags in their hands and show the jury the evidence.

Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence is the opposite of direct evidence. It’s intangible. It cannot be held in your hands. It’s a conclusion made by corroborating direct evidence. A textbook example of circumstantial evidence is when you are in your house on a cold winter night and getting ready for bed. You look out your window and see clear skies, and your pavement is dry. You retire upstairs for the evening and go to sleep. The next morning you wake up and walk downstairs for breakfast. At the bottom of the steps, you look out the same window and notice a snow-covered pavement.

You did not see it snow, but it snowed while you were asleep. You did not see anyone walk on the pavement at your house, but after it stopped snowing, someone walked past your house. You can conclude, circumstantially, it snowed, and someone walked on your sidewalk while you were asleep. Circumstantial evidence is a powerful tool for prosecutors.

In the Gilgo Beach murder cases, from what has been released in the media, the prosecution rests strongly on circumstantial evidence. They have DNA hair samples and matching DNA from a pizza box. They also claim to have burner cell phone records but have not released any information on how they can relate the burner phones to Heuermann.

The prosecutor has to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is where a reasonable person would halt, hesitate, or refrain from making an important decision. It’s not a 51% standard; it’s far higher.

The defense is the evidence is equally consistent with the killing as it is with having relationships with sex workers. Further, if Heuermann were the type to have sex with prostitutes, he would have had sex with multiple sex workers without hesitation. And his wife’s DNA is a red herring—it’s not a real issue. Certainly, if you live with someone, your DNA can easily transfer from their clothing to yours. And, if you have sex with a prostitute, you likely remove all your clothing during the sex act, so your spouse’s DNA could certainly be present at the time. Further, the burner phones will be very difficult to link to any specific person. They may be able to show some type of cell tower triangulation of the phone usage at the time of the calls, but Heuermann lived in the killing area. Living at Gilgo Beach is not a crime. The fact that he lived there at the time of the killing is a coincidence and not proof of anything criminal.

Clearly, a reasonable doubt exists based on the evidence presented to the media so far in this case. If a reasonable jury cannot decide if he promoted prostitution versus being a killer, he should be found not guilty.

The wildcard is his wife. Will she testify that he was rough with her in their sexual relationship? Is that type of testimony admissible? Will she testify that she found incriminating evidence in their marital home years ago? Will she testify that she ever saw him with a burner phone? Or, will she testify that she joined him in soliciting prostitutes to explain away her DNA firsthand?


Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.