for National Geographic News
A triple murderer is spending life in prison, thanks to a dog's DNA.
In the fall of 2000, Phillip Stroud and three accomplices were burglarizing an upscale home in Lakeville, Indiana, when they realized that three construction workers were in a barn on the property.
To cover the burglars' tracks, then-21-year-old Stroud shot each worker in the head, according to court papers.
In statements later given to police, Stroud claimed he was only a lookout and that he never left the car.
But his involvement in the homicide became clearer to investigators when DNA from dog feces found outside the house matched excrement on his sneakers.
It ended up being a key piece of evidence. Stroud was ultimately convicted of murder and is serving life without parole.
The crime is just one of a small but growing number of cases where animal DNA evidence is being used to help identify and convict killers, rapists, and thieves.
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, an expert in DNA technology, says as long as people share their lives with pets, animal DNA is bound to play an increasing role in crime scene investigations.
"Unfortunately our homes are crime scenes, and animals are witnesses that usually can't tell you much about what happened. But if you find their DNA it can be pretty important evidence," he said.
The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California's School of Veterinary Medicine in Davis is one of the leading animal forensic laboratories in the country.
The lab's forensic branch was formed seven years ago because of a growing number of requests for service by law enforcement agencies, according to the lab's director, Elizabeth Wictum.
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