how DNA helped the FBI find out he faked his kidnapping

(CNN) — Sherri Papini, the Californian mother who faked her own kidnapping in 2016 in a hoax exposed with the help of advances in DNA technology, was sentenced Monday to a year and a half in prison, according to a Justice Department statement. .

Judge William B. Shubb ruled that Papini, 40, should serve 18 months in prison followed by 36 months of supervised release after he admitted to cheating and pleaded guilty in April to mail fraud and making false statements. He was also ordered to pay almost US$310,000 in compensation.

The sentence is much longer than the lawyers had requested. Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence her to eight months in prison, while the defense asked for one month of preventive detention and seven months of house arrest.

Sherri Papini California Kidnapping

Sherri Papini pleaded guilty in April to charges of fraud and lying to police for telling authorities she had been the victim of a kidnapping. Credit: Shasta County Sheriff

The charges date back to November 2016, when Papini was reported missing after going for a run near his home in Shasta County, Northern California. Three weeks later, she was found injured and alone on a highway some 140 miles away. Ella Papini told police that she had been kidnapped and tortured by two masked Spanish-speaking women who kept her chained in a closet, held her at gunpoint and branded her with a hot tool.

The accusations prompted authorities to conduct an exhaustive search for the alleged Hispanic captors that yielded no results for several years. He also received more than $30,000 from the state in victim compensation funds.

However, her lies were revealed when investigators managed to link, in 2020, the DNA on her clothes to an ex-boyfriend, who admitted that the alleged kidnapping had been a hoax.

In their sentencing note, federal prosecutors said the hoax wasted resources and prompted police to investigate innocent targets.

“Papini planned and executed a sophisticated kidnapping hoax, then continued to perpetuate his false statements for years after his return with no regard for the harm he caused to others,” prosecutors said in opening arguments. “As a result, state and federal investigators devoted limited resources to Papini’s case for nearly four years before independently learning the truth: that she was not kidnapped or tortured.”

“Papini caused innocent people to become the target of a criminal investigation,” prosecutors added. “He left the public in fear of his alleged Hispanic captors who supposedly remained at large.”

In the defense sentencing memorandum, Papini’s attorney noted that she acknowledged the deception and said her reputation had suffered enough.

“Sherri’s years of denial are now undeniably over. Her name is now synonymous with this horrible hoax. There is no way around it,” attorney William Portanova wrote in the statement.

“It is hard to imagine a more brutal public revelation of a person’s broken inside. At this point, the punishment is already intense and feels like a life sentence,” he added.

Outside the court this Monday, Portanova tried to distance today’s Papini from whoever carried out the crime.

“Whatever happened five years ago, it’s a different Sherri Papini than what you see here today,” he said.

How new DNA technology helped crack the case

The case got a lucky break in 2020, when investigators took an unknown man’s DNA from the clothes he was wearing and analyzed it using technology known as genetic genealogy. The DNA was linked to a family member of Papini’s ex-boyfriend, and investigators then took the ex-boyfriend’s DNA to confirm their match, according to a 55-page affidavit released earlier this year.

In an interview with investigators, the ex-boyfriend admitted that he helped Papini “run away” from what she described as an abusive relationship and put her up at his home in Southern California, the affidavit states. The ex-boyfriend said that she had self-harmed, that she had cut her hair and that she had asked him to mark her with a wood-burning tool as part of her deception, according to the statement.

Investigators corroborated the ex-boyfriend’s account in numerous ways, including phone records, his work hours, rental car receipts, odometer records, toll records and an interview with his cousin, who saw Papini. In the House.

Authorities confronted Papini with the new information and warned him that lying to authorities is a crime. Still, she stuck to her original story about two Hispanic female kidnappers and denied seeing her ex-boyfriend, the affidavit states.

Authorities announced the charges against her in March 2022, and she pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal a month later. Her husband also filed for divorce and custody of her two children, saying she was “not acting rationally,” court records show.

In court in April, Papini said he was in treatment for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder starting in 2016 and also struggled in high school.

“I am deeply ashamed of my behavior and so sorry for the pain I have caused my family, my friends, all the good people who suffered unnecessarily because of my story, and those who worked so hard to try to help me,” Papini said in her statement. . “I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I did.”

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