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How DNA technology solved a 25-year-old murder


PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. – In the early morning of August 14, 1997, Michael Scheumeister was found dead near the Mirror Lake Library on 5th Street North in St. Petersburg.

Scheumeister, 45, was found lying on his back with his pant pockets turned inside out and the money from his recently cashed paycheck was gone, indicating a robbery motive.

On a new To The Point Already podcast, Bay News 9 anchors Rick Elmhorst and Roy De Jesus talk with Pinellas County authorities about how intricate DNA technology was able to solve the case 25 years later.

“When you’re going through these cases, you almost have to triage them as far as what evidence is available,” said St. Petersburg Police Detective Wallace Pavelski. “I’ll go through the cases and if I see enough evidence available, I’ll start to work on it.”

Investigators learned that Scheumeister was at a bar with Patricia Morris the night before he was found dead. But Morris stated the two went their separate ways after leaving the bar and when no further evidence emerged, the case went cold. Morris died in 2010 at age 59.

But improved technology managed to breathe new life into this case and many others like it. That’s where DNA analysts like Beth Ordeman enter the picture.

In early 2022, detectives resubmitted Scheumeister’s pants to the Pinellas County Forensics Lab for DNA re-evaluation. This month, detectives received a response from the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) that the DNA found on the inside of the front and rear pant pockets belonged to Morris.

The Medical Examiner’s report had determined that the cause of death was due to blunt force trauma to the head and neck.

“The DNA results that I got from the pockets were entered into (CODIS) and then the search happens at the local level against all of the samples we have,” Ordeman said. “Then it moves up to the state level and we get a match message back in the system. Once I verify that it truly is in fact a DNA hit, I ask the state database to release the name and identifying information.”

It’s a detailed process but ultimately rewarding when it leads to a case being closed, Ordeman said.

“There’s always hope, no matter what,” she said of solving cold cases. “The technology is very advanced now. We’re getting great results with just a few cells of DNA.”

ABOUT THE SHOW

Spectrum Bay News 9 anchor Rick Elmhorst sits down with the people that represent you, the people fighting for change and the people with fascinating stories to ask the hard questions.

Catch up on our latest To The Point Already podcast episodes.



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