In a recent development in Alaska, 67-year-old Donald McQuade from Oregon was convicted of murder in a 1978 case involving the death of 16-year-old Shelley Connolly. The conviction, which took place in state court in Anchorage, was a result of advancements in genetic genealogy testing used by investigators decades after the crime.
In the years following Connolly’s death, Alaska State Troopers developed a DNA profile from evidence collected, but initially did not find a match. In 2019, they employed genetic genealogy testing, which compares DNA profiles with those in genealogical databases to identify genetic similarities. This technique led to McQuade, who was living in Alaska at the time of Connolly’s death.
Investigators obtained a DNA sample from McQuade, affirming its match with DNA found on Connolly’s body. Randy McPherron, an Alaska State Trooper investigator who came out of retirement to lead the case, combined this breakthrough with traditional investigative methods to establish McQuade as a viable suspect.
McQuade’s arrest occurred in 2019, but his trial faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the trial, the prosecution focused on the DNA evidence from Connolly’s body. McQuade’s defense attorney, Kyle Barber, argued that the DNA evidence was the sole basis for the charges and mentioned the possibility of other individuals’ DNA being present. Public Defender Benjamin Dresner intends to appeal the conviction.
McPherron expressed gratitude for the technological advancements that enabled a resolution to the long-unsolved case. He reflected on the transformative impact of forensic DNA analysis over the years and its role in changing the course of such investigations.