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1999 Murder Of Hospital Worker Solved Using DNA And Genetic Genealogy

Investigators have said they believe that Jennifer Watkins' former coworker at a Colorado hospital is her killer.

By Gina Tron
How To Use DNA To Crack A Case
Jennifer Watkins Ricky Severt Pd

Police in Colorado say they’ve solved a 1999 cold case murder after DNA and genetic genealogy led them to a slain hospital worker’s now-deceased alleged killer. 

Jennifer Watkins’ husband reported her missing in November of 1999 after she didn’t return from her shift at Memorial Hospital, the Colorado Springs Police Department said in a Wednesday press release. Two days later, Watkins’ body was found in a stairwell under construction at the hospital “wrapped in plastic and bound with duct tape,” according to police.

Investigators determined that Watkins died from blunt force trauma to the head and that she had been sexually assaulted. Semen and DNA were found at the scene. However, investigators were unable to trace the evidence to a suspect at the time and the case went cold.

In 2017, investigators took another stab at the case using new technology. With the assistance of Parabon NanoLabs, a technology company based in Virginia, investigators used DNA phenotyping to develop a composite of the suspect, which helped them determine was likely a white man around 25 years old with blue or green eyes, police said. 

Parabon's chief genetic genealogist CeCe Moore told local outlet KOAA that the case has “not been an easy one to solve.”

In 2019, a DNA profile developed from the semen found at the scene was submitted for genetic research at Parabon. In August, this led investigators to Ricky Severt, who was 29 at the time of the murder. Severt had been interviewed by detectives as part of the initial homicide investigation.

Severt had worked since 1998 as an employee in the maintenance department at the Colorado Springs hospital where Watkins had also worked as a food service aide, local outlet KCNC reports.

"Based on the work schedule Ricky Severt provided during his interview, he would have been working a swing shift on November 5, 1999, the date Jennifer Watkins was last seen," police wrote. 

Severt was killed in a traffic accident in 2001.

Familial DNA collected from surviving relatives of Severt in September determined that the DNA sample at the scene excluded 99.99994% of the population, but could not exclude him, police said. This month, the local district attorney’s office determined that they believe Severt was indeed Watkins’ killer.

The case has now been closed.

“After all these years, we are grateful to finally give Jennifer Watkins’ family the answers they deserve,” Colorado Springs Police Department Chief Vince Niski said in the statement. 

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