In February of 1997, Amber Creek of Palatine, Illinois ran away from home. Two hunters ran upon her body and it was discovered that she was raped and suffocated by a plastic bag and manual neck compression. Her body was not identified until 17 months after she was found.
The case went cold and evidence from the crime scene was stored. On February 28, 2014, fingerprints that aren’t visible to the naked eye (called latent prints), and which were found on the plastic bag that killed Amber, were identified as prints belonging to James P. Eaton. His prints were on file due to a small offense years before.
Eaton was 19 years old at the time of the murder. After following him around for two days, detectives used one of his cigarette butts to test DNA he left behind which matched DNA at the crime scene. They also compared bite marks he left on the body to his dental records; they were a perfect match.
Eaton was charged with first degree murder and concealing a body. This charge would have put him behind bars for life without parole. His trial date was set to November of 2015 where he was found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He will be eligible for parole after serving 10 years.
In 2013, the FBI Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometric system was tested. Ninety-nine cases were searched and there was a hit on twenty-five of those cases. This method isn’t widely used because of the challenges including the time that it takes to evaluate cases to see if enough latent prints are available and the current case load of new cases.
We hope to see more cases solved using this new technology.