The manhunt for the serial killer of five university students focused on a Louisiana drifter after investigators secretly obtained blood and saliva samples from a prison dentist, a newspaper reported Sunday. Investigators announced May 31 that Danny Rolling of Shreveport was their top suspect in the savage Gainesville slayings.
Sources familiar with the investigation said Rolling, awaiting sentencing in Ocala for a robbery about two weeks after the killings, was not considered a priority suspect initially as investigators pursued more promising leads, the Miami Herald reported.
He rocketed to the top of the suspect list after investigators tested dental gauze stained with Rolling's blood and saliva following a dental treatment Jan. 2, the paper said.
At that time, investigators had not yet collected enough evidence against Rolling to obtain a search warrant. But technicians were able to glean Rolling's blood type and enzyme composition from the gauze.
Though the test wasn't as precise as DNA genetic fingerprinting, chemists found a close correlation to crime-site samples.
Rolling's lawyer was surprised to learn investigators had secreted the gauze out of the dentist's office, a maneuver that some legal experts say may have violated the suspect's legal rights.
"I don't know anything about it and our office represents him," said Tricia Jenkins, assistant public defender in Marion County. "I don't think he knew that was being done."
Rolling is a suspect in the August 1990 murders of four women and a man. Their bodies were discovered during a three-day period at the beginning of the fall semester at the University of Florida.
A carpet cleaner confessed late Saturday to strangling two students in Gainesville last week. Police say those killings were unrelated to the murders last summer.
After the tests that followed Rolling's visit to the dentist, investigators backtracked through a series of holdups and stolen cars and placed him in Gainesville about the time of the killings. They linked him to a camp discovered in the early days of the investigation in the woods near the apartment complex of one of the dead students, the Herald said.
Soon investigators had enough to get a search warrant for samples of Rolling's blood, hair, pictures, footprints and fingerprints. The blood was submitted for DNA genetic fingerprint examination.
After weeks of tests, the lab notified task force leaders that Rolling could be considered a prime murder suspect, the report quotes unidentified sources as saying.
Last week, prosecutors announced they would go to a grand jury in the fall with evidence linking both Rolling and another suspect, Edward Humphrey, to the killings.
A Fourth Amendment debate on the dental gauze is likely, should Rolling be charged and brought to trial.
But there are circumstances under which collecting evidence secretly is perfectly legal.
A 1988 Supreme Court ruling, for example, held that the Constitution does not prohibit the warrantless search and seizure of garbage left for collection outside a home. The court reasoned that a person has no expectation of privacy in discarded items.
Whether used dental gauze would meet that standard would be a question a court would have to decide.
Jim Green, Florida legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that Rolling's right to dentist-patient confidentiality may have been breached.
"There are some serious questions about whether the patient's confidentiality rights were violated either by jail personnel or the task-force investigators," Green said.