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Attorney General Lockyer, Seal Beach Chief Sellers Announce That State DNA Databank Links Suspect to 1980 Homicide

Thursday, April 19, 2001
Contact: (415) 703-5837

(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Seal Beach Police Chief Michael Sellers today announced that a "cold hit" made March 19 in the California Department of Justice (DOJ) DNA Laboratory in Berkeley has linked a suspect to the 1980 Seal Beach sexual assault and murder of 70-year old Simone Sharpe.

Benjamin Wayne Watta, 55, is currently serving a 10-year sentence in a Florida State Prison for attempted homicide. He was linked to the murder when evidence from the crime scene was analyzed by the Orange County Crime Lab and yielded a DNA profile which matched Watta's DNA profile stored in the DOJ Convicted Felon Databank. Simone Sharpe was found by her son on December 24, 1980 at a Seal Beach house that she was taking care of while the owner was on vacation. The house was in order, and the owner reported that nothing was missing.

California law requires blood and saliva samples to be taken from individuals convicted of any of nine specified felony sex and violent crimes. The samples yield DNA profiles, which are stored in the DOJ Convicted Felon Databank. DNA profiles extracted from crime scene evidence are compared to the profiles in the Databank, and a match in an unsolved case is considered a "cold hit." The local law enforcement agency and/or the local crime lab is notified about the identification and can then proceed appropriately with the information. Watta's DNA profile is in the Databank as a result of a previous homicide conviction in California.

"Twenty years ago, the Seal Beach community was shocked and a family was devastated by the brutal murder of Simone Sharpe," said Lockyer. "Because Seal Beach never gave up on this case and because expanded use of DNA technology and our databank is a top priority, we were able to provide the identity of the suspect."

Seal Beach Police Chief Michael Sellers attributed the resolution of this unsolved case to the cooperative efforts of a number of law enforcement agencies. Chief Sellers said that this cooperation, coupled with advancements in DNA technology, legislative changes, and state and federal funding, have made it possible for municipal law enforcement agencies to solve crimes that would otherwise never be cleared.

Upon taking office in 1999, Attorney General Lockyer pledged to eliminate the backlog of more than 100,000 unanalyzed convicted felon blood samples. The lab is now on pace to eliminate this backlog by July 1, 2001, when there will be a projected total of 200,000 DNA profiles from convicted felons that will be searchable against DNA profiles from crime scene evidence.

In order to increase the number of suspects identified and crimes solved, Lockyer is sponsoring legislation (AB 673 - Migden) to add residential burglary, first-degree robbery, arson, and carjacking to the current list of qualifying offenses which includes rape, murder, attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter, domestic violence, kidnaping, child molestation, mayhem and torture.

A total of 35 suspects have been identified by the DOJ DNA Convicted Felon Databank since it was established in 1994. Thirteen of these "cold hits" have been made since January 1, 2001, three of which have identified suspects in homicide cases that were more than 15 years old.

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