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DNA connects suspects to downtown L.A. car burglaries

June 29, 2009 | 11:30 am

GarciaVictor Sutherland Los Angeles detectives have used DNA from downtown car burglaries to connect three men to separate crimes and have one of the suspects in custody as they search for two others.

Detectives opted to pursue the car burglars with technology more often used in murder and sexual assault because of the potential number of victims.

“This was an unexpected windfall,” said Lt. Paul Vernon, head of detectives for the Central Police Station. “Car burglars are among the hardest criminals to tie to crimes because few are ever seen, so to identify three from DNA like this is rare, but becoming more common."

Two of the suspects -- Clifford Sutherland and Victor Garcia -- remain at large.

Blood left on a door handle identified Garcia, 28, of Los Angeles, as a match for a car burglar who smashed the window in 2007 and took cash from a man’s sports car parked near 4th and Hill streets, police said.

In another case, blood found on a paper bag left behind by a car burglar from 2008 was collected and placed in the laboratory queue for analysis. The blood was analyzed a year later and results uploaded in the state database.

In May, state database officials notified detectives that the blood matched Sutherland, 23, of Los Angeles. His DNA was on file from a prior arrest, and he is currently on probation for grand theft.

The third suspect, Ruben Vera, 43, of Lincoln Park, was arrested last week in connection with a February 2008 robbery in which a window was smashed and a stereo and CDs were stolen from a car parked on Jesse Street west of Santa Fe Street.

A lab analysis of blood recovered from the broken glass led detectives to Vera, who was on parole for burglary.

“We’re very pleased to see these matches return, even after one year,” Vernon said. “Car burglaries are a low priority compared to murders and sexual assaults, so those cases do and should take priority. We’ll see more and more of these cases coming in as more criminals are entered ... and DNA collection becomes more commonplace.”

-- Richard Winton

Photos: Victor Garcia, left, and Clifford Sutherland. Credit: Los Angeles Police Department