HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Evidence in the death of township teen Tiffany Valiante tested by a forensic lab was mishandled by the New Jersey Transit Police Department, according to a report released Tuesday by a forensic specialist hired by her family.
“We have extensive experience over decades performing analysis on evidence with degraded DNA; however, in this instance, we were able to obtain very little DNA for comparison due to the manner in which the evidence was collected and maintained,” Dr. Julie A. Heinig, laboratory director of Forensics and DNA Technical Leader with the DNA Diagnostic Center, said in a statement Tuesday.
Heinig cited problems with how evidence was packaged by the New Jersey Transit Police Department, saying some of the evidence tested was stored in plastic bags over paper ones. This caused “moisture-inducing bacterial contamination,” she said.
A judge previously ordered the police department to hand over evidence for testing, some of which included a headband, t-shirt and shoes.
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In her report, Heinig cited problems with how evidence was packaged by the New Jersey Transit Police Department, saying some of the evidence tested was stored in plastic bags over paper ones. This caused “moisture-inducing bacterial contamination,” she said, adding that not handling evidence properly can make it difficult to preserve any DNA.
Heinig also said other pieces of evidence were improperly logged, saying they were not labeled with initials of those who handled the them to maintain a chain of custody. She said doing is is industry standard.
Tiffany’s blood from her blood card could only be identified using paternity testing because it was improperly preserved, she added.
The police department declined to comment on the matter Tuesday.
Valiante, who was 18 at the time of her death, died in 2015 when she was struck by a New Jersey Transit train a few miles from her home. The state Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death a suicide within 48 hours after her death.
Her family, however, continues its assertion that the teen bound for Mercy College, in Dobbs Ferry, New York, showed no signs of being suicidal, believing she was a murder victim.
“We know her killer or killers are still free and must be held accountable for Tiffany’s death,” Valiante’s parents, Stephen and Dianne Valiante, said in a statement Tuesday, adding that they’ll be appealing to the state Attorney General’s Office to continue investigating her suspicious death.
The state Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Since Tiffany’s death, the Valiantes have fought for permission to independently test the evidence from the scene, releasing it from the New Jersey Transit Police Department’s custody.
“This report by DDC reinforces our view that there was a gross rush to judgment by investigators, who hastily determined Tiffany’s death was a suicide; they never treated the scene like a crime scene and, clearly, mishandled key evidence that we now conclusively learn was useless when finally subjected to DNA testing,” Paul D’Amato, the family’s attorney, who is handling the case pro bono, said in a statement Tuesday.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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