San Diego

DNA Technology Identifies Suspect in Woman's Unsolved Valentine's Day 2007 Killing

Eleven years after the cold case killing of Jodine Serrin, 39, police say DNA evidence points to David Mabrito, 38, as her alleged killer

Using cutting-edge DNA technology, investigators have identified a man suspected of brutally killing a Carlsbad woman in her home on Valentine’s Day 2007 in a chilling case gone cold. 

The Carlsbad Police Department (CPD) and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that David Mabrito is suspected in the slaying of Jodine Serrin, 39, on Feb. 14, 2007.

Police said Mabrito was linked to the murder via the recent advancement of DNA matching technology and genealogical experts. Mabrito, who was a transient, died from suicide in 2011. He was 38 years old at the time Serrin was killed.

[G] San Diego's Unsolved Cold Cases

On Valentine's Day 2017 -- 10 years after Serrin's murder -- investigators released details on a website dedicated to the cold case, as well as new information on the suspect compiled based on the first use of new forensic technology in San Diego County.

This past February, investigators with the CPD and San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said they had been using the services of Virginia-based DNA tech company, Parabon NanoLabs.

The company specializes in something called DNA “phenotyping,” which is the process of using unidentified DNA evidence left behind at a crime scene to predict someone’s physical appearance and ancestry.

Its “Snapshot” DNA Phenotyping Service – which was built with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense – is used by law enforcement to generate leads in criminal investigations, narrow suspect lists and identify unknown remains.

The same technology helped investigators track down a suspect in the Golden State Killer case, according to CPD detectives.

In Serrin's case, Snapshot was used to produce a portrait of a person of interest and what he may have looked like in 2007. The predictions spanned everything from the man’s face shape, hair and eye color to his possible ancestry.

At that time, police said that based on those predictions, the man involved in Serrin's case might have had green or blue eyes, dark blond or light brown hair, and some freckles on his face. A composite portrait was publicly released and law enforcement officials announced a reward of $52,000 for information leading to an arrest in the cold case.

While the snapshot service helped detectives narrow their search based on the suspect's appearance, it was the DNA matching technology that solved the crime.

CPD Lt. Greg Koran said investigators ran DNA evidence found at the murder scene against a DNA database. Mabrito's own DNA wasn't in the system but DNA belonging to some of his relatives was.

By process of elimination, they zeroed in on Mabrito, though he was already dead. He was a transient in the North County and had family in the area, Koran said.

The lieutenant didn't say how detectives made the connection but they discovered that the Oceanside Police Department (OPD) had an unprocessed sample of Mabrito's DNA they gathered at a traffic stop because he matched the description of a suspect in another case.

Mabrito died shortly after the sample was taken and it was never processed, but the OPD never discarded it.

Koran said the when they ran Mabrito's DNA against crime scene evidence in Serrin's case, matching technology returned a "1-in-64-quintillion match," meaning there was virtually no statistical probability it could be anyone else's DNA but Mabrito's.

On Tuesday, the Carlsbad Police Department thanked Parabon NanoLabs among a long list of people and agencies that have aided in the 11-year investigation, as well as the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab and the FBI.

“We are thankful to provide a resolution of this case to Jodine’s family,” Carlsbad Police Chief Neil Gallucci said in a press release. “We never forgot Jodine and we are grateful to have identified the person responsible for her tragic murder.”

The police department said Serrin's family wanted to release this statement to the media:

“Jodine taught us all with her special challenges, perseverance and love of nature. There was joy in her laughter, love in her heart and faith in her soul. The Serrin family is forever grateful to the Carlsbad Police Department for their outstanding efforts in attaining justice through resolution of this tragic case.”

The Crime

Serrin was a mentally challenged but highly functioning woman who lived on her own in a ground-level condo on Swallow Lane in Carlsbad.

Serrin’s parents, Arthur and Lois Serrin, checked in on her frequently. On Feb. 14, 2007, after being unable to reach her by phone, Serrin’s parents went to her condo to make sure she was alright.

It was about 10 p.m. Serrin didn’t answer the door.

Her parents opened the front door with their key and went inside. Serrin’s father walked into his daughter’s bedroom to find a man engaged in sexual activity with his daughter. Fearing he had walked into an awkward situation, Arthur Serrin went back out into the living room to give the two some privacy.

He told the man to get dressed and get out. He and Lois Serrin waited for the duo to exit the bedroom, but they never did.

When Arthur Serrin entered the room again, he discovered his daughter had been sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled to death.

The man who had been in her bedroom with her was gone.

According to investigators, the suspect may have escaped through an open front door that wasn’t visible from where the victim’s parents were standing in the living room. There were no signs of forced entry at Serrin’s condo, so her killer may have been someone she knew. He may have known she lived alone.

Investigators did not identify anyone other than Mabrito as being involved in Serrin's murder.

In the past, Serrin’s loved ones have remembered her as a woman with a gentle heart who loved helping others. She volunteered at her church and at the San Diego Humane Society and was active in the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, among many local organizations. She loved animals and was skilled in floral design, and also enjoyed biking, kayaking and walking on the beach.

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