Santa Barbara detectives reopen 1975 homicide case of 16-year-old boy with help of DNA technology

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Paul Ornelas is seen in an undated photo provided by the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office on April 6, 2021.

Paul Ornelas is seen in an undated photo provided by the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office on April 6, 2021.

Detectives are reopening the investigation into the decades-old unsolved killing of a teenage boy near Santa Barbara with the help of DNA technology that didn’t exist at the time.

The body of 16-year-old Paul Ornelas was found near railroad tracks in an unincorporated area on June 21, 1975, but an investigation over several years never led to arrests, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said this week.

“Ornelas’ unsolved murder has left his family with lingering grief,” the office said.

Now, investigators have a tool called the ANDE Rapid DNA instrument that has been successfully used in critical cases such as 2019 Conception dive boat fire that killed 34 people off Santa Cruz Island. In that case the device was used to rapidly identify the dead.

In criminal cases, the technology is able to process tiny levels of biological evidence left by suspects at crime scenes.

“This technology was not available at the time of the Ornelas homicide in 1975, but thanks to the preservation of evidence, and new comprehensive DNA procedures, the ANDE instrument offers a new, reliable, and effective tool for investigators to revisit this case,” the office said.

The reopened Ornelas case has been assigned to the sheriff’s major crimes unit.

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