HomeBensalem TimesThe Comic Collection burglars arrested thanks to DNA technology 

The Comic Collection burglars arrested thanks to DNA technology 

Farry, Tomlinson, Hogan gather at Feasterville shop to stress the importance of DNA collection post-arrest

Advocating for a safer PA: Sen. Frank Farry speaks at a news conference outside The Comic Collection about the usefulness of DNA in catching criminals. Source: Livestream Screenshot

Dave Schwartz, longtime owner of The Comic Collection, is grateful that, thanks to the power of DNA evidence, justice is finally being served to the individuals responsible for the horrifying experience he endured on Sept. 18, 2022. 

Just before 5 p.m., two men entered the store, located at 83 Bustleton Pike, Feasterville, pretending to be customers and inquiring about an item on a top shelf. When Schwartz ascended a ladder to retrieve the merchandise, they knocked him to the ground, beat him with enough force to cause broken ribs and other injuries, and bound him with zip ties. They then proceeded to steal Pokémon cards, action figures and other collectibles. 

Clothing, which included DNA of the perpetrators, was collected from the scene and sent to the Pennsylvania State Police crime lab, and proved to be extremely useful in eventually apprehending the criminals. In March 2024, truckers Caleb Simpson and Zackery Tucker, both of Michigan, were charged. 

Michigan is one of 19 states that requires the collection of DNA upon arrest for certain felonies, rather than after conviction. Therefore, after Simpson was arrested in his home state for an attempted firearm theft, his DNA was collected and uploaded to CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). Law enforcement was alerted that his DNA matched a previous crime — the violent robbery and attack at The Comic Collection. 

On May 30, Schwartz welcomed to his store state Sen. Frank Farry, state Reps. K.C. Tomlinson and Joe Hogan, Bucks County Sheriff Fred Harran and Lower Southampton Chief of Police Ted Krimmel, all of whom discussed the importance of DNA evidence in the criminal justice system.

Farry introduced Senate Bill 988, while Tomlinson and Hogan are carrying the House companion bill, HB 2040. Both would make a minimally invasive DNA swab at the time of a felony arrest a requirement in Pennsylvania, which is currently one of several states that doesn’t have this as law. 

The bills would also expand the collection of DNA samples for those offenders convicted of criminal homicide, which, under Pennsylvania law, are their own classification of crime and technically not classified as felonies. This legislation would close that loophole and require collection of DNA samples from these offenders to solve other cold case murders and crimes.

“One of our goals as elected officials is to ensure our communities are safe and our law enforcement and prosecutors have the right tools to be able to properly do their jobs,” said Farry. “Our legislation will enhance public safety, bring closure to crime victims, and maintain the integrity of our criminal justice system.”

Justice is served: The Comic Collection owner Dave Schwartz is grateful that his attackers were apprehended. Source: Livestream Screenshot

Farry, Tomlinson and Hogan began their collaborative push to get this law passed in Pennsylvania earlier this year, when they met Ashley Spence, who, in 2003, as a 19-year-old incoming sophomore at Arizona State University, was suffocated, beaten and raped when a man broke into her campus apartment during her first night back on campus. 

It wasn’t until seven years after the attack that Kevin Lee Francois was found guilty of the crime after trying to break into the home of three young women in California — where DNA is taken at the time of arrest — and resisting officers. His DNA was uploaded to CODIS and matched not only Spence’s case, but other rapes across the country and numerous burglaries. 

Since the burglaries took place in states that didn’t require DNA collection during felony arrests (they only required it post-conviction), there was no way to connect Francois to the sexual assaults prior to the incident in California. He was sentenced to 138 years behind bars. 

“DNA makes a difference, and that’s why we’ve introduced legislation to do just that,” said Hogan, who spotlighted a recent case in Colorado, where a man was found to be a serial child rapist after being arrested — and having his DNA collected — for the felony of check forgery. “This is a real way to keep the community safe. It’s a real way to keep families protected and business owners in operation.”

Harran praised the legislators for their advocacy. He recalled how, when similar bills were introduced around 2013, there wasn’t much movement. This was despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same year, in a 5-4 decision, that DNA can legally be collected as part of the booking process, right alongside fingerprinting and a mugshot. 

In addition to quickly apprehending criminals for past crimes, and thus preventing them from committing future ones, Harran stressed that this law would also help exonerate innocent people who were wrongly accused or convicted. 

“This is going to be a game changer for law enforcement,” he said. 

Tomlinson added, “Our DNA bill will provide the ability to prove someone’s innocence or guilt without question. This legislation is necessary, needed and common sense.” 

“Our bill will work to protect the public from serial offenders, aid law enforcement and save innocent people from wrongful convictions. By taking a sample of DNA following a felony arrest, law enforcement can solve cold cases and save time and taxpayer money by narrowing down on suspects. Additionally, safeguards are in place so that if an innocent person’s DNA is taken, it can be removed from the national system,” said Hogan. “Nineteen states, including Texas and California, along with the federal government, obtain DNA samples post-arrest. It is time Pennsylvania joins these other states to modernize our criminal justice system and keep our communities safe.”

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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