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Scientist on Roundabout Journey to Crime Lab

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page C05

Kevin Miller received his bachelor's degree in physiology from Cornell University and his master's degree in veterinary pathophysiology from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. He got his doctorate in molecular anthropology from the University of Cambridge in England.

Miller has used DNA to study the migrations of the Vikings across Great Britain and the lives of prehistoric Indians in the United States. He worked for a Louisiana crime laboratory and was a researcher in the FBI's counter-terrorism forensics unit.

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In October, he was hired by D.C. police to help coordinate efforts to construct the department's first high-tech crime laboratory.

Given his background, it should be no surprise then that Miller's pet parrot, Miko, can say only one word.

It squawks that word over and over again: "DNA."

"It overheard me on the phone a lot, saying, 'DNA this, DNA that,' Miller said. "It just picked it up. It's the only thing it knows."

The D.C. police department is one of the few big-city forces in the country that does not have its own sophisticated crime laboratory. Most of its forensic work is done by the FBI. The department and top city leaders hope to fix that in coming years with the construction of an $80 million lab.

Last fall, police took their first steps toward that goal by hiring Miller and nine DNA technicians and examiners.

The new employees, after more than a year in training, will temporarily work at the FBI laboratory in Quantico on D.C. police cases. So far, the technicians and examiners have spent much of their time going through boxes and files to identify evidence that might be useful to test in the future.

Miller declines to discuss specifics about the backlog or even its scope, saying it will take time for him and his examiners to get a firm handle on the issue.

In the last decade alone, more than 3,000 people have been slain and 2,500 raped in the city, leaving behind scores of evidence boxes that might contain helpful clues.

"The idea is we have to develop teams of crime lab experts, detectives and attorneys who will go through the backlog we identify and determine what is useful for the city to go through," Miller said.

Top police officials said they felt fortunate to hire Miller.

"He is clearly a smart guy and brings a lot of energy to the job," said Cmdr. Christopher Lojacono, who is Miller's boss. "He's on track with what we're trying to do."

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