Fingerprint recognition has helped the police make an arrest in an unsolved murder case from 1975. The crime took place in a San Diego apartment on New Year’s Eve, when Navy dental technician Alvaro Espeleta was strangled and bludgeoned to death inside his own home.
Though the trail had been cold for decades, police received an unexpected break when 62-year-old Dennis Lepage was arrested on a minor charge in upstate New York. Though the charge was unrelated to the San Diego case, Lepage’s fingerprints were run through a law enforcement database, and were matched to a print from the 1975 crime scene. Lepage is now in a county jail in New York after being arrested in Troy, NY, and will soon be in court for an extradition hearing that will likely send him back to San Diego for a trial.
The motive for the crime is still unknown (or at least has not been disclosed), but Lepage was enlisted in the Navy and stationed in San Diego at the time. Either way, the case aptly demonstrates why police are so interested in biometric forensic technology. Multiple New York police departments applied for grants to purchase new fingerprint scanners back in 2015, and this is likely one of the outcomes they were hoping for when they acquired the technology.
Of course, solving a decades-old cold case is a best-case scenario. Other biometric initiatives have been slightly more controversial. For instance, a 2018 report found that the police often use the fingerprints of dead people to unlock their mobile devices.
However, the police use of facial recognition has raised far more concerns in recent months, especially after the New York Times revealed that hundreds of departments have licensed an unregulated facial recognition database. Privacy advocates have argued that the sweeping surveillance tech represents an extreme threat to civil liberties, leading to local bans and calls for legislation that would limit law enforcement’s use of the technology.
Source: NBC San Diego
January 31, 2020 – by Eric Weiss