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DNA test delay leaves mom distraught

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rose Best just wants to bury her son. But four months after the discovery of a body believed to be that of 20-year-old Michael Lattimore, the body remains in a morgue because officials won’t confirm the identity without DNA test results.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that Lattimore of East St. Louis, Ill., was last seen in mid-August. On Aug. 25, a grass cutter discovered a decomposed body in a vacant lot in St. Louis.

Police found an Illinois driver’s license and a cell phone belonging to Lattimore. The victim had gunshot or stab wounds to his head, neck and chest, and the condition of the body made it impossible to identify him without DNA tests.

Best, 46, of St. Louis, doesn’t understand why the identity hasn’t been resolved by now.

“They keep saying they can’t release the body,” said Best, 46, of St. Louis. “Why is it taking so long? I don’t understand. I’m trying to find out what’s going on.”

Mary Beth Karr, assistant director of the St. Louis crime lab, said the body was so degraded that the identification process is slower than normal. Also, she said the lab processes more than 6,000 pieces of evidence each year and handles cases as they arrive.

“I understand this woman’s pain,” Karr said. “We cannot bump up one person’s case. We are doing everything we possibly can to have these remains identified.”

Police are now awaiting results of a mitochondrial DNA test from a lab in Texas using mouth swabs taken Oct. 27 from Lattimore’s mother. The lab in Texas is among the few that conduct tests of human mitochondrial DNA, St. Louis Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Graham said

“I don’t see any reason it’s not (Lattimore), but we’ve got to prove it,” Graham said. “If you’re a family waiting, it would seem like a very long time. But this is very sophisticated technology where there’s very limited availability for testing, so time is out of our control.”

Police have no promising leads in the case, and Best says she has no idea who might have killed her son.

Lattimore grew up in East St. Louis and was a high school dropout, Best said.

He was released from prison in February 2009 after serving a little more than two years for an aggravated battery conviction. But Best said he “was ready to be something,” and had recently decided to join the Army.

Paperwork from the Army about her son’s enlistment arrived by mail about a week after he disappeared, Best said. She held a memorial service on Oct. 25, her son’s 21st birthday.

The cell phone police seized still goes to voicemail, Best said. She recently left a message, just to say she misses him and loves him.

“I just want this case closed,” Best said. “There’s so much hurt that my whole family is going through. This is on my mind all the time. I can’t even sleep at night. It’s really killing me.”

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com.

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