Crime & Courts

Tougher DNA tests used to ID body

MYRTLE BEACH -- A more time consuming, tedious method of DNA testing is needed to determine whether human skeletal remains found in January belong to Alice Donovan, a Galivants Ferry woman who has been missing since 2002, police said.

Horry County police Sgt. Robert Kegler said Thursday that mitochondrial testing is required on the remains that were found in a woods off Water Tower Road along S.C. 90.

The testing is expected to add weeks to the wait time for Donovan's family members, who are hoping the find is linked to her.

Authorities found the remains after federal death row inmate Chadrick Fulks provided clues in a letter on where to look for her.

Fulks and Brandon Basham were sentenced to die for Donovan's abduction from the Wal-Mart parking lot in Conway in November 2002 and await execution on death row in Terre Haute, Ind. Donovan's body has been missing since her abduction.

Kegler said the additional testing will require a more lengthy process and it will take several weeks to extract DNA from the bones for comparison.

Jennifer Timmons, a spokeswoman for the State Law Enforcement Division, on Friday would not discuss the results of the DNA testing that had been done on the remains.

SLED Lt. David McClure, with the forensic DNA lab, said in January that the two types of DNA tests used in criminal cases are the Short Tandem Repeat and mitochondrial tests.

Most forensic labs use STR testing because it is simpler and can be used in most cases, but when remains are badly decomposed, mitochondrial testing is required, McClure said.

That type of testing is more expensive, tedious and time-consuming and only a few laboratories are equipped to conduct it, he said. The test compares DNA from the maternal side of the family because mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from the mother.

Donovan's family members have said they look forward to giving her a proper burial. They could not be reached on Thursday for comment about the delay in identification of the remains.

A map and letter that Fulks sent to Monica Caison, founder of Wilmington, N.C.-based Community United Effort, a volunteer organization that searches for missing people, led to the discovery of bones.

Caison also is using information from Fulks this week in West Virginia to try to locate the remains of Samantha Burns, a college student whom Fulks and Basham are also convicted of killing. Her body also has not been found.

Caison said she planned to speak to Fulks on Thursday for more details about where Burns' remains are located near Huntington, W.Va.

Burns was the first woman Fulks and Basham killed after their escape from a Kentucky prison on Nov. 4, 2002. The pair went about 2,300 miles in two weeks, and police said they committed a string of crimes along the way.

The men also face life sentences after they pleaded guilty in 2005 to the carjacking and death of 19-year-old Burns.

-- The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News