DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – When Dallas Police arrested a suspect in the sexual assaults that terrorized the Lake Highlands community, they were confident they had their man.
“A palm print from the March 15th offense has been matched to this suspect,” said Chief David Brown, at a press conference announcing the arrest of Cesar Benitez.
A different palm print left at a crime scene five years ago recently helped catch another suspected serial rapist, Fernando Munoz.
“At one time, we didn’t have the technology,” said Chief Brown, when asked why Munoz wasn’t identified earlier.
Investigators have been finding palm prints for decades.
It was less than four years ago, though, the Texas Department of Public Safety created a searchable statewide database of them.
That database now holds the imprints of a million different hands.
“As the database gets bigger, we get more hits,” said Deb Rowles, a forensic fingerprint expert.
Dallas police granted CBS11 news reporter Andrea Lucia access to their crime scene response section, where forensics experts can take retrieve fingerprints, palm prints, and even foot prints from almost any item.
Even a partial hand print can be matched back to a suspect.
Rowles was busy comparing a print from the heel of palm to similar ones her computer found in the state database.
“It is our estimate that we have palm print evidence on 25% of all the cases that we’ve been to,” said Ron Everett, the Forensic Services administrator, who oversees the division.
Dallas police are now going back through records of unsolved cases, searching for palm prints to enter into the still relatively new state database.
“We quickly learned how valuable it was,” said Everett.
His team was the first in the state to make a match.
Within months, the FBI is expected to start its own database, too, a national one, allowing investigators to compare prints found across the country.
As soon as it’s available, Dallas police will begin searching it for a match to any unidentified prints.
The Dallas County jail, meanwhile, continues to regularly take palm prints from inmates being booked in for felony charges, creating a larger inventory of images for investigators to look through.
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