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Police collect DNA from middle-schoolers in murder investigation

April 17, 2012 |  8:39 am


Detectives have taken DNA samples from several Sacramento middle-school students in connection with the murder investigation into the death of a 13-year-old girl who was found stabbed, strangled and beaten to death at a park.

Jessica Funk-Haslam was found in the dugout of a baseball field at Rosemont Park on March 5. Investigators say the girl had argued with her mother and left home the night before. She boarded a nearby light-rail train, transferred to a bus and got off near the park.

Police have released surveillance video from a neighbor near the park showing a suspicious man running away from the park along Rosemont Drive toward Mayhew Road about the time Jessica was killed. It showed him ducking down a side street when a car approached.

But last week the investigation took a turn when Sacramento County detectives showed up at Albert Einstein Middle School — where Jessica had attended — to talk to three or four students and to take DNA cheek swabs from them.

This is the first indication that there may be a possible DNA link to the case, Fox 40 Sacramento reported.

"My child's in a room with two detectives being questioned and grilled and I'm sure he was quite frightened, which is very upsetting," said Michaela Brown, the mother of one of the students who was questioned.

Brown says a friend of her son who's also been questioned more than once in this investigation has left the school because of the treatment by other students who found out.

Authorities said they do not need parental consent to obtain a DNA swab.

"Regardless of whether the individual is an adult or a juvenile, they are capable of giving consent. We don't require the consent of a parent if we're doing it with someone of a younger age," said Deputy Jason Ramos of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.

If detectives had wanted to draw blood from the middle-schoolers, then a parent would have to be present and because of the 4th Amendment. Detectives would also need a warrant.

"As long as it's a non-invasive procedure — a cotton swab, taking a soda can after somebody drinks from it, or a water bottle after someone drinks from it — that's going to be fine, that's going to be allowed," legal analyst Ken Rosenfeld said.

Administrators at Albert Einstein said they met their legal obligations by calling the parents and telling them what was happening, though in at least one case a voicemail message was left for a parent.

"Any time authorities come to our school and want to talk to our students, our first priority is to make sure we let parents know immediately," said Gabe Ross of the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Tara Funk-Haslam, Jessica's mother, said she supports the Sheriff's Department's investigation..

"I do believe 100% in what everybody's doing as far as with the Sheriff's Department," said Funk-Haslam. "At this point I do have faith in that what they're doing will find who's responsible for this."


Screams heard in park where Sacramento girl was killed

Police canvass schools, neighborhood for clues in girl's death

Suspicious man seen running from park where Sacramento girl slain

— Andria Borba, Fox 40 Sacramento