The expertly told story of a murder and a molecule.
“Two lives, made and destroyed by DNA and by each other,” says British journalist Weinberg (Last of the Pirates, 1995) of the collision between Helena Greenwood, a British chemical pathologist working on various applications of DNA, and David Paul Frediani, the man found guilty of first her sexual assault and then later her murder. (Though the case can be made that Greenwood wasn't destroyed by DNA, but laid to a more peaceful rest by the apprehension of her murderer). Carefully and without melodrama, Weinberg follows Greenwood, Frediani, and their families and acquaintances through their lives, leading up to the sexual assault, Frediani's conviction, and then the murder, for which there was initially no evidence of Frediani's involvement. The author traces the evolution of elements of forensic pathology from fingerprinting to blood typing to the emergence of a spiraling ladder of protein as they replaced the smoking gun as prosecutorial manna. She fluidly handles the science behind the reliability of DNA profiling analysis and explains how inept handling by law enforcement can easily corrupt it. (Indeed, the whole history and mechanics of DNA are intelligibly presented.) Exhaustive trial scenes now and then bog down the story, but this comprehensive detail is critical to understanding the interplay between DNA evidence and all other forms of evidence, as well as the possibility that telltale DNA material may have arrived at the scene of the crime in altogether innocent ways. To help situate the Greenwood case within the history of DNA analysis, Weinberg reviews a number of high-profile DNA cases (O.J. Simpson and a handful of important others) and assesses the role played by archival homicide details both in apprehending criminals and in freeing innocent parties now serving time. But her main focus remains on the fatal Greenwood-Frediani conjunction.
Deeply satisfying account of a rotten crime solved by chemical sleuthing.