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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Newly-required DNA tests of state prisoners have led police to identify five suspects in previously unsolved murders, as well as other suspects in nearly two dozen sexual assaults across the state, 24 Hour News 8 has learned.
They are among more than 70 crimes being linked to state prisoners through the tests, state police said on Thursday.
Tonight on 24 Hour News 8 at 10 and 11 p.m.: More about the crimes solved as a result of the original Target 8 investigation.
- Crimes solved: More than 70
- Murders: 5
- Sex assaults: 23
- Property crimes: About 40
Among the murders was the 1993 rape and killing of 19-year-old Wanda Musk, who grew up in the Muskegon County community of Twin Lake.
"After a while, we kept thinking, well, either (her killer) is dead, or he's in prison, or something," said Wanda Musk's uncle, Ron Mast of Twin Lake, who helped raise her. "You don't know ... A person that you walk across the street could be the person that did it."
A DNA match found her alleged killer -- a man already in prison for another murder, state police told 24 Hour News 8.
Michigan State Police are crediting a new state law that requires the state Department of Corrections to take DNA samples by force, if necessary, from all prisoners.
"We've got numerous matches on different crimes that these individuals had committed," MSP Lt. Col. Daniel Atkinson said.
A Target 8 investigation last year found that thousands of prisoners had refused to provide their DNA, allowing them to hide in prison. It was that investigation, state police say, that helped lead to the state law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in July 2011.
"They said all along the case would probably be solved with DNA," Wanda Musk's uncle said. "Why should the prisoner be sitting in there and have some kind of rights where he don't have to give his DNA? He's violated them rights when he did the crimes."
The law led the Department of Corrections to take DNA samples from more than 4,500 inmates and led to months of work for the state police crime labs.
Among the findings:
- Of the five murders, three were in Detroit, and two were in the Flint area.
- At least a half-dozen of the sexual assaults were in the West Michigan area.
- DNA also linked state prisoners to about 40 unsolved property crimes, including burglaries and even a drug case.
MSP refused to identify any of the suspects, saying they've turned over the information to police departments across the state.
MSP said the suspect in Musk's murder has been in the prison system since about 1995. He had refused to give up his DNA until it was taken last year under the new law.
Musk, 19, grew up in Twin Lake, northeast of Muskegon. After her father died, her aunt and uncle raised her as their own. An aspiring artist, she went to Grand Rapids Community College, then transferred to Mott Community College in Flint.
On Nov. 14, 1993, she was working the third shift at a Flint-area party store. Just before the end of her shift at 7 a.m., she disappeared.
A short time later, police found her naked body, her mouth gagged, along a road four miles away. She had been raped.
"There's so much in life that was ahead of her that she could have had, and that was all taken out in just one night, you know, and it's gone," her uncle told Target 8 investigators. "We had good memories, and that's the only thing that holds us."
Her death started an investigation that kept leading detectives to the same place: Nowhere.
"It was a terrible death, and we wanted to see justice on this, and we weren't able to find a suspect on this, get any positive leads," said Lt. Col. Atkinson, who was a state trooper when he helped Genesee Township police on the case.
"You know, certain cases throughout your career really bother you. It bothers you that you weren't able to solve it. This was one of those cases."
Now, 18 years later, Atkinson is in charge of state police crime labs -- and the case, in a way, has come full circle.
It was his DNA unit that got a hit -- evidence left at the scene matched the DNA of a man already serving life in prison for another murder. He had previously refused to provide his DNA, police said.
Genesee Township Police Detective Tim Williams confirmed that DNA had led them to a suspect -- a man who had never been on his radar. He said he's still working on the case and hopes to turn it over to prosecutors for charges.
Police sources said investigators are also looking at a second suspect in that case.
Musk's family said police called them with the news in January.
"It's more relief and tears," Mast said. "It's a relief that finally, 18 years since she's passed away, that we can have some kind of closure."
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