GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) -- Police say a cutting-edge DNA test could identify which identical twin was the stranger who raped a student 16 years ago in downtown Grand Rapids, but sticker shock is delaying justice.
The test could cost as much as $160,000, making it by far the most expensive forensics test ever in Kent County, police and prosecutors told Target 8.
Police say they are considering applying for a federal grant to pay for it.
The student, then 26, was walking to her car after a night class at Kendall College of Art and Design downtown when she was attacked in November 1999.
Traditional DNA tests identified the suspect as Jerome Cooper, of Twin Lake, but police later learned he has a twin brother, Tyrone. The identical twins have identical problems: Both have histories of sexual assault and neither had an alibi.
Both are now free. They have denied the attack.
The problem is that traditional DNA tests can't pinpoint which man is the attacker because identical twins have the same basic DNA.
Georg Gradl, of Eurofins Scientific in Ebersberg, Germany, is a next-generation sequencing scientist whose lab was called on by police in Boston last year after a similar case there. He said his lab can find genetic mutations that can distinguish between identical twins.
"We are very convinced that we can solve it," Gradl said of the Grand Rapids case.
The lab developed the test in 2013 not to solve crimes, but for paternity tests -- to figure which identical twin was a baby's father.
RAPE CASE IN BOSTON
In Boston, Dwayne McNair was charged in 2012 on eight counts of rape and two counts of armed robbery for a pair of separate attacks on women in September 2004. Those charges were dropped because DNA couldn't differentiate between him and his identical twin.
The district attorney re-filed the charges in September 2014 after the new DNA test pinpointed Dwayne McNair.
The test took 10 weeks. It found Dwayne McNair was several billion times more likely than his brother to be the rapist.
"You'd essentially have to leave the planet to find another individual with the same genetic profile," Suffolk County District Attorney spokesman Jake Wark told Target 8.
Prosecutors in Boston believe it's the first such criminal case in the world.
"An identical twin is no longer a free pass," Wark said. "Science has now advanced to the point where it can distinguish between two individuals who could not be separated, who could not be distinguished in years gone by."
Boston police and the district attorney split the $120,000 bill in that case.
"The price tag was daunting, but the interest of justice and our ability to split the cost between two separate agencies made it a worthwhile one," Wark said.
Grand Rapids police last year got new DNA samples from the Cooper twins. They say they're waiting to see what happens in Boston before pushing for the new test.
The DA's office in Boston expects a hearing later this year on whether the court will accept the new science and allow them to move forward with their rape case.
"We're confident it will be accepted in court," Wark said.
Grand Rapids police have been working with a lab in North Carolina and have been told the test could run around $160,000, but the lab in Germany told Target 8 it has found ways to cut the cost.
"It's an expensive test because there is a lot of just simply consumable costs and labor and so on," Gradl said.
"If they ask for $160,000, they should ask us," he continued. "Maybe we'd have a good chance to go significantly under that."
The German scientist said he'd welcome a call from Grand Rapids.
"If they are asking us for help, we would like to do it," Gradl said. "The probability that we can solve the case is extremely high."
Gradl said he's aware of cases in other countries including the United Kingdom, Switzerland and France.
WHERE ARE JEROME AND TYRONE COOPER NOW?
In the meantime, the Cooper twins are free -- both living under suspicion.
Jerome Cooper is on the Michigan sex offender registry for raping a girl in Muskegon County. He lists an address in Muskegon Heights, but Target 8 couldn't find him there during repeated visits last week.
Tyrone Cooper was 24 when he sexually assaulted a 12-year-old in Twin Lake. Target 8 tracked him to Champaign, Ill., a Big Ten college town more than four hours from Grand Rapids. On the Illinois sex offender registry, he's listed as a predator.
Last week, Target 8 investigators circled back again and again to the address Tyrone Cooper lists as home on the sex offender site.
"He's not here. He don't live here," a man who identified himself as his cousin said.
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