Theresa Bentaas is fighting a murder charge by saying police should not have taken DNA from her garbage without a warrant.
On Feb. 11, 2019, undercover detectives removed the trash from outside a 57-year-old paralegal’s home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in hopes of finding her DNA.
Police were led to Theresa Bentaas’ home by a new investigative technique that combines direct-to-consumer genetic testing and genealogical records. The detectives believed they were close to solving a crime that had haunted the city for 38 years: a newborn left to die in a frigid roadside ditch, tears frozen to his cheeks.
Once they’d taken the garbage from Bentaas’ home, the detectives pulled out beer cans, water bottles and cigarette butts, according to court documents. They sent the items to a state crime lab, where analysts extracted DNA that they said might belong to the baby’s mother.
Citing those results, one of the detectives got a search warrant to obtain a DNA sample directly from Bentaas. When he showed up at her home, Bentaas admitted to leaving the baby in the ditch in February 1981 after secretly giving birth, saying she’d been “young and stupid” and scared, according to an affidavit submitted by the detective.
A few days later, according to court documents, Bentaas’ DNA swab revealed her as the baby’s likely mother. Police arrested her on a charge of murder.
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