Author Archives: Kimberly DelMonico

About Kimberly DelMonico

Kimberly DelMonico is a licensed attorney in New York and Nevada. She received her law degree from William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and her undergraduate degree from New York University, where she studied psychology and broadcast journalism.

Book Questions Science of Criminal Investigation

A new book questions the science behind criminal investigations by examining a 27-year-old arson and murder case.

Jo Ann Parks’ Conviction

On April 9, 1989, the garage apartment of Jo Ann Parks went up in flames. Parks escaped, but her three young children were still inside. She ran next door to her neighbor’s house to call the police. Investigators initially believed that the fire was accidental, but eventually concluded that it was arson. Parks was accused of arson and the triple murder of her children.

At Parks’ trial, fire investigators testified that the fire was caused by human origin. One investigator testified that he believed that there had been two fires, one that was started in the living room and one that started in the children’s bedroom. Two points of origin meant that the fire was caused by arson because an accidental fire would only have one point of origin. Investigators also testified that they believed that one of the children had been trapped in a closet that had a door that was blocked by a laundry hamper.

Parks was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Humes’ Book

On January 8, 2019, Edward Humes published Burned: A Story of Murder and a Crime That Wasn’t.  In his book, Humes recounts the story of the fire and its repercussions. Humes explains how on the night of the fire, Parks asked a police officer repeatedly if her children were okay and then complied with the request that she wait at a police station a few blocks away. Some of the jurors said that Parks’ acquiescence with that request without demanding to see her children was the deciding factor in their vote to convict her of arson.

Humes examined the way that evidence was collected in Parks’ case. Humes explained that the arson experts who testified at Parks’ trail relied on their mapping of the fire’s path. Humes explained that the arson experts did not fully understand flashover, which happens when a fire gets so hot that “every flammable surface in the room not already burning will ignite in rapid succession.”

To illustrate flashover, Humes explained an experiment that was conducted at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia the same year that Parks’ trial took place. The experimenters set two rooms on fire and asked veteran arson investigators to examine each room and choose the quadrant of the room where the fire had started. While the participants thought that this would be an easy task, they chose the wrong quadrant more than 90 percent of the time. Humes explained that this and other similar experiments showed that flashovers made determining the cause of domestic fires very difficult. Despite the fact that flashover had occurred in Parks’ apartment, arson investigators testified that the burn patterns implicated Parks in the arson.

Humes notes that arson investigation is just one of many of the forensic techniques that have been recently discredited. He points to bite marks, hair and fiber comparisons, matching fingerprints, and lineups as examples of forensic investigation techniques that have been routinely discredited by later comparisons of DNA samples.

DC Police Supervisor Fired After Providing Expert Testimony in Case

A Washington, D.C. police supervisor was fired after providing expert testimony in an ACLU lawsuit.

The Searches

On September 27, 2017, Officer Sean Lojacono conducted a search of a man in Southeast Washington, D.C.. The search was captured on a cell phone video that went viral online after it was posted on YouTube. The video showed Lojacono aggressively and intrusively searching M.B. Cottingham. The search led to an ACLU lawsuit that accused Lojacono of “repeatedly jamming one or more fingers into (his) anal cavity and grabbing his genitalia … without a warrant, probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or consent.”  The ACLU lawsuit was settled out of court.

A few hours after the search of Cottingham, Officer Lojacono conducted a similar search, which was recorded by two police body cameras. In the footage, Lojacono is seen searching a man in the same way that he searched Cottingham. The man in the video reportedly says “you’re sticking your fingers in my ass” and that Lojacono is “violating him as a man.”  The DC Police department fired Officer Lojacono because of the way that this search was conducted.

Lojacono appealed his firing. He claimed that he knew that the searches violated his training and the general orders of the DC Metropolitan Police Department, but said that veteran officers instructed him to conduct searches in this manner. Lojacono testified that they way he conducted the body searches on September 27, 2017 was a common practice and that he had conducted hundreds of similar searches during his 5-year career.

The Expert Testimony

J.J. Brennan is a Washington, D.C. police supervisor who reviewed the video footage and provided expert witness testimony at Officer Lojacono’s hearing. Brennan testified that Lojacono’s search met the general order guidelines of the police department.

Lojacono’s attorney Marc Wilhite said, “J.J. Brennan wanted to make it very very clear to the panel that this is what is allowed under the general orders. This is what is actually taught and instructed for officers because you have safety as well not only because you could have contraband there but you could also have weapons.”

Brennan’s testimony was contradicted by three other police officers, including his commander.

The Firing

The day after Brennan’s testimony, he was given a letter of termination. The letter of termination stated that his commander had lost confidence in Brennan’s ability to manage members of the major narcotics unit following his trial testimony. The letter quoted from Brennan’s trial testimony, where he stated that you follow the rules and general orders of the police department “when you can” and “I always told people that worked for me, don’t be afraid to go up in the crotch.”

Prior to his firing, Brennan had spent 43 years on the force as a sergeant.  Brennan was currently serving as a civilian supervisor at the time of his firing.

Brennan spoke with FOX 5 news after his firing, saying that he was “very bitter and angry” over the firing. The people he searched might also be bitter and angry about the violations of their constitutional rights.

Expert Psychiatrist Testifies in Murder Trial

An expert psychiatrist has testified that a murder defendant had a diminished ability to premeditate or deliberate the killing of his wife due to a dissociative episode.

The Crime

On December 5, 2013, Cynthia Grantham received a call from her brother-in-law, Joseph Levi Graham. Grantham was crying and said, “Cynthia, have you heard?”  Grantham told Cynthia that his wife, Constance, was dead. When Cynthia asked what happened, Grantham told her, “I shot her.  I shot her in the head.” Grantham told Cynthia to tell his brother not to come to his house because he had turned on the gas, that they would never see him again, and that he loved her.

Cynthia and her husband went to the nearby house of the sheriff, Maynard Reid. Reid sent a deputy to the Grantham house to do a welfare check.

The body of Constance Grantham was found with two gunshot wounds to the head and one gunshot wound to the chest. Joseph Levi Grantham was charged with first-degree murder in connection with his wife’s death. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Expert Testimony

Grantham’s defense attorney retained Dr. George Corvin to testify as an expert in forensic psychiatry. Dr. Corvin has been practicing general and forensic psychiatry since the early 1990s.

Dr. Corvin testified that he has spent about eight hours with Grantham over the past five years. He interviewed Grantham in June 2014, April 2015, May 2018, and October 2018. Dr. Corvin testified that he evaluated Grantham’s level of competency to stand trial. Dr. Corvin opined that Grantham had the capacity to do and understand what was needed of him to stand trial.

Dr. Corvin also evaluated Grantham’s mental state on the night that he killed his wife. To reach his conclusions about Grantham’s mental state, Dr. Corvin utilized Grantham’s first interview with detectives, his wife’s autopsy and medical records, Grantham’s medical records and workers compensation records, transcripts of interviews with Grantham’s family, photo of the victim’s autopsy and the Grantham’s home, and a video of Grantham’s first appearance in court.

Dr. Corvin concluded that Grantham was “very simple” and “marginally educated.” Dr. Corvin testified that Grantham had “seemed so limited” that he wondered if he was intellectually disabled. Grantham was given a Wechsler IQ test, which is designed to measure intelligence and cognitive ability in adults and older adolescents. Grantham scored a 94, which is within the range of average.

Dr. Corvin testified that, although Grantham’s Wechsler score indicated that Grantham’s innate intelligence was okay, his “fund of knowledge” was limited. According to Dr. Corvin, Grantham’s leaving school in the eighth grade combined with his life experiences caused Grantham to have a childlike view of that world that caused “his ability to understand and react well to stresses” to be “very limited.”

Dr. Corvin concluded that Grantham had an acute dissociative reaction to stressful events, which can lead to the experience of depersonalization and derealization. He opined that Grantham suffers from a schizotypal personality disorder, which can cause odd beliefs, magical thinking, bodily illusions, eccentric/peculiar behavior and social anxiety. Dr. Corvin stated that Grantham’s ability to premeditate or deliberate killing his wife was “diminished and complicated” due to a “period of dissociation.”

Verdict

The jury apparently rejected Dr. Corvin’s testimony. Gratham was found guilty of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Experts Debate Whether Qualcomm Could Harm Competition

The FTC’s lawsuit against Qualcomm is awaiting a verdict, which could have a significant impact of the future of smartphones. Experts for each side have differing view on whether Qualcomm’s policies hurt competition.

Qualcomm is the world’s largest provider of mobile chips.  It created the technology that connects phones to cellular networks. Qualcomm makes a significant portion of its revenue from licensing its inventions to cellphone makers with its fee based on the value of each phone.

Qualcomm owns patents that are related to 3G, 4G, and 5G networks, which means that all cellphone makers pay Qualcomm a licensing fee, even if they do not use Qualcomm chips.

The FTC filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm in January 2017, arguing that Qualcomm maintained a monopoly and extracted high royalty fees that weakened competition. Qualcomm has denied all allegations and says that the FTC does not have any evidence of anticompetitive behavior.

The trial was held before Judge Lucy Koh in United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

FTC’s Expert Witness Testimony

The FTC retained Professor Carl Shapiro as an expert witness.  Shapiro is an industrial organization economics professor at Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley. He formerly held a position in the antitrust division of the Justice Department.

Shapiro analyzed Qualcomm’s market power in CDMA and premium LTE modems during the period of time between 2006-2016. According to Shapiro, three of Qualcomm’s policies gave it the market power to demand supra-FRAND royalties, or royalties that are not fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory. These three policies were: its “no license, no chips” policy, its incentive payments to phone OEMs, and its refusal to license standard essential patents to rival chip makers.

According to Shapiro, Qualcomm is using its market power and monopoly power to extract an “unusually high amount” for royalties for patents.

Qualcomm’s Expert Witness Testimony

Qualcomm retained Tasneem Chipty as an expert. Chipty is an expert in competition and antitrust economics. Her practice focuses on competition analysis, including market definition, market power, and competitive effects of different types of conduct across a variety of industries. Chipty has previously served on the faculties of The Ohio State University, Brandeis University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she taught courses in antitrust and regulation, industrial organization, and econometrics.

Chipty testified that “Qualcomm doesn’t have sufficient market power to coerce OEMs [handset makers] into onerous business terms that would rob them of billions of dollars.”  She noted that Qualcomm had cut its chip pricing in response to competitors hitting the market or Intel potentially winning business with Apple. Chipty noted that this behavior may have helped Qualcomm win business, but did not mean that the company was anticompetitive.

Chipty also noted that Qualcomm lost 50 points of market share in premium handsets from 2014 to 2017. Chipty addressed the FTC expert’s testimony, stating, “Shapiro has overstated Qualcomm’s market power.” Chipty opined that there’s no “evidence of consistent and unconstrained market power of the type” that would hurt competition.

Wooden Mallet and flag Of New Jersey

Judge Will Not Allow Hoarding Expert to Testify

A federal judge will not allow a hoarding expert to testify in the trial of the Orange County, New Jersey GOP Chairman who is on trial for tax evasion.

The Charges

On January 10, 2019, Orange County GOP Chairman George Gilmore was indicted on six federal tax charges. 

Gilmore was charged with one count of income tax evasion for the calendar years 2013, 2014, and 2015; two counts of filing false tax returns for calendar years 2013 and 2014; failing to collect, account for, and pay payroll taxes for two quarters in 2016; and making false statements on a 2015 loan application submitted to OceanFirst Bank.

Gilmore could face years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines if he is convicted.

The federal grand jury alleged that Gilmore spent more than $2.5 million on personal expenses while owing more than $1 million in federal taxes. Gilmore’s purchases included $440,000 in antiques, artwork, and collectibles, over $100,000 for Colorado vacations; and over $700,000 for mortgages and related expenses on five different properties that he owned.

Gilmore also borrowed more than $1.7 million from professional associates, friends, and clients from January 2014 to December 2016. Gilmore also obtained more than $572,000 from the cash-out portion of a home mortgage loan that he refinanced.

When indicted, Gilmore referred all questions to his attorney, Kevin Marino. Marino said, “George Gilmore faithfully reported every penny of his income, repeatedly expressed his intention to pay his taxes together with interest and penalties, freely conceded that he was unable to pay his taxes in a timely fashion, and shared with the government the reasons why… That is not tax evasion by anyone’s lights. We look forward to Mr. Gilmore’s full vindication at trial.”

The Proposed Hoarding Expert

Marino submitted a letter to the court on March 28 indicating that his client was acting on good-faith in his dealing with the Internal Revenue Service. He wrote that Gilmore believed that “as long as he paid his back taxes, including payroll taxes, with interest and penalties, the fact that he may have incorrectly reported some of the monies he received from his law firm, or failed to pay over all of his firm’s payroll taxes in a timely fashion, would not expose him to criminal liability.”

Marino also proposed the introduction of expert witness Dr. Steven Simring, a psychiatrist and author to testify in Gilmore’s defense. Dr. Simring submitted a report that indicated that Gimore met the criteria for hoarding disorder as described in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.

The U.S. Attorney’s office moved to exclude Dr. Simring’s testimony, noting that the doctor’s report did not explain why the alleged disorder “would cause Gilmore to pay some bills, including mortgage payments for multiple homes and credit card bills, but not others, like his federal tax bill.”

U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson granted the government’s motion to exclude Dr. Simring’s testimony.

Ex-Priest and Expert Loses Licenses Over Scandal

A former priest who was defrocked after allegations of child sexual abuse has also lost his licenses to practice medicine.

Sex Abuse Allegations

The Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas began receiving allegations of sexual abuse of minors against Reverend John H. Wisner beginning in May 2012. Reverend Wisner was immediately suspended from active ministry and law enforcement was notified. 

The archdiocese conducted an investigation and found the allegations to be credible. In November 2012, archdiocesan officials sent the results to the Vatican. 

Wisner denied that he had engaged in sexual misconduct. He was never criminally charged in connection with the allegations.

The Reverend John H. Wisner was laicized, or returned to the lay state, by a decree issued by Joseph F. Naumann on December 21, 2017. The order was affirmed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on March 2, 2018. The announcement was published on May 25, 2018 in The Leaven, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City.

Wisner had been ordained in 1972. He served as an associate pastor at St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park and worked at Sacred Heart and Christ the King parishes in Kansas City, Kansas, and St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee.

Wisner also had been an associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in the psychiatry and behavioral sciences department. He retired in September 2012.

Lost Medical Licenses

Despite Wisner’s defrocking, his medical licenses remained active for months afterward. This fact was reported by the Kansas City Star in September 2018. Victims’ advocates voiced their opinions that Wisner should not be allowed to retain his medical license. “This is a matter of protecting the public,” said Patrick Wall, a former Catholic priest who works as an investigator for a Minnesota law firm that represents sex abuse victims. “Just because he was granted a medical license at one time doesn’t mean he has a right to have it for life.”

However, Kansas medical registration records now list Wisner’s license as inactive. Wisner’s  medical license was not due to expire until July 31.

According to Kathleen Selzler Lippert, executive director of the State Board of Healing Arts, Kansas uses the inactive designation to designate a person who isn’t regularly practicing medicine in the state and “who does not hold oneself out to the public as being professionally engaged in such practice.”

Wisner’s license to practice medicine in Missouri was not revoked; it lapsed because it wasn’t renewed.

Wisner, 72, has declined to comment on the abuse allegations.

Former Expert Witness Practice

Wisner spent many years as a psychiatrist expert witness in civil and criminal trials including high-profile murder cases and sexual abuse cases.

Rebecca Randles, an attorney who has represented hundreds of sexual abuse victims in Kansas City, has said that Wisner’s medical license status is a cause for both relief and concern. She said,  “Because his license lapsed or was not renewed, the board likely lost jurisdiction to act on it.” This means that Wisner could seek reinstatement of his medical license in the state or elsewhere.

Expert Testifies That Weak Bones Could Have Caused Death

A pediatric forensic pathologist has testified that weak bones was a likely cause of death in the case of a man who is accused of killing his 6-week-old son.

The Death

On December 18, 2016, the El Dorado County sheriff’s department responded to a call requesting medical aid for an infant. A six-week-old Samuel Swope was transported to Marshall Hospital in Placerville, where he was pronounced dead. The subsequent investigation determined that the death was a homicide. It was also revealed that Michael Swope, the baby’s father, was not the biological father of the child and he reportedly admitted not wanting to care for another man’s child. Swope also admitted tossing Samuel to his wife during an argument.

Michael Swope was charged with second-degree murder and felony child abuse and endangerment in connection with Samuel’s death.

The Expert Testimony

Defense attorney Philip Cozens retained Dr. Janice Ophoven to testify on Swope’s behalf. Dr. Ophoven is a pediatric forensic pathologist who has worked on hundreds of cases involving the death of children.

Dr. Ophoven has over thirty years of clinical, administrative, and quality improvement experience. She is board certified in pathology, forensic pathology, quality assurance, and utilization review. Dr. Ophoven has consulted as a court-certified medical expert in pediatric forensic pathology in criminal and civil cases for both the prosecution and defense. She has also has consulted with medical examiners, coroners, physicians, law enforcement, and legal professionals who have asked her to determine the cause and manner of the child’s injury or death.

Dr. Ophoven testified that she has worked on many cases where an infant had suffered fractures and was initially thought to be the victim of child abuse, but bone disease turned out to be the cause of the breakage. She opined that the case of baby Samuel may fall into that category. However, Dr. Ophoven also said that a fatal blow to Samuel’s head was the likely case of the precipitating fatal incident. Dr. Ophoven said that if baby Samuel’s bones were already compromised due to bone disease, he would be much more susceptible to injury from a blow or other trauma.

Dr. Ophoven concluded that baby Samuel’s abnormal weakness could have accounted for some 30 fractures to the baby’s ribs. These injuries, which were found during Samuel’s autopsy, were a contributing factor to the Sacramento pathologist Brian Nagao calling law enforcement for what he believed was a criminal case of child abuse.

Cross Examination

Prosecuting attorney Lisette Suder of the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office raised the issue of expert fees. Suder pointed out that the defense team had paid Dr. Ophoven more than $15,600 so far, implying that the doctor’s testimony would be more favorable to the defense position.

Suder asked Dr. Ophoven whether her “goal was to say that the mom did it and that it (the fatal injury) didn’t happen that day?” Dr. Ophoven denied that contention and said that her findings came straight from the record.

Judge Approves Forensic Witness in Cold Case Killing

A judge has approved a forensic consultant as an expert witness in the case of a Wisconsin man that is accused of killing his wife in 1982.

The Crime

On April 28, 1982, the body of 33-year-old Barbara Mendez was found at the Park City Credit Union where she worked. Barbara’s body was found bludgeoned to death. According to court documents, Barbara died from multiple blows to her head that likely came from a pry bar. 

Barbara’s husband’s family worked in the furniture business and frequently used pry bars in their work. A member of the family turned a pry bar in to the police in 2003.

At the time of Barbara’s death, no charges were brought. Years later, Barbara’s daughters wrote to the television show Cold Justice, asking them to look into the case. Cold Justice ran a segment on the case and did an additional investigation

The 2018 episode followed Steve Spingola, a former lieutenant detective with the Milwaukee Police Department, and prosecutor Kelly Siegler, who worked in the Harris County, Texas district attorney’s office for over 21 years. Singola and Siegler worked with local law enforcement and reviewed reports to investigate the unsolved crime.

Court documents show that Mendez began having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl the summer before his wife’s murder. Mendez told the girl that he wanted to marry her, but he couldn’t because the church did not approve of divorce. On the night of his wife’s death, Mendez reportedly saw the girl and told her that he was “footloose and fancy free now.” Mendez also coached the girl and his two daughters to lie to the police. 

As a result of the Cold Justice investigation, Oneida County District Attorney Michael Schiek recommended that Robin Mendez be charged. Mendez was charged with first-degree intentional homicide.

Tool Mark Analysis Expert Witness

Mendez waived his right to a jury trial. His trial will be held before Oneida County Circuit Court Judge Jill Falstad in April. The prosecution filed a motion requesting forensic Christopher Robinson to be allowed as an expert witness. 

Robinson is a forensic consultant who has over 20 years of experience in the forensic field. He spent over 12 years in law enforcement with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as a firearms examiner and with the Atlanta Police Department as a Director of the Atlanta Police Crime Lab. Robinson has been called by both prosecution and defense to provide expert testimony in the areas of: firearms and tool mark examination, shooting reconstructions, gunshot residue analysis, blood spatter analysis, and crime scene reconstruction. He has provided testimony in state and federal courts in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Iowa, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Virginia, Missouri, Kansas, Alabama, Minnesota, and Alaska. Robinson has worked on cases involving unintentional discharges of firearms, police shootings, homicides, suicides, and assaults.

One of Robinson’s areas of expertise is tool mark analysis, which is the process of examining the marks left at a crime scene and a tool that is believed to have been used in a crime to see if a positive match can be achieved. Tool mark analysis is controversial because no scientific studies validate tool mark analysis and no standardized protocol allows examiners to determine whether a particular mark came from a particular tool.

Judge Falstad approved Robinson as a witness.

Justice Scales

Defendant’s Own Expert Damages His Case

A murder defendant’s case was damaged by the testimony of his own expert witness.

The Crime

On November 16, 2015, Edith “Edie” Black-Scherer was found on the floor with a pillow wedged between the bedframe and her face. Black-Scherer is believed to have been killed by the ligature made with the drawstring of her sweatshirt, by strangulation with hands, and suffocation with a pillow. Black-Scherer was taken off life support five days later.

Black-Scherer, 45, was the mother of two children and a recently published author at the time of her death.

Black-Scherer’s husband, Axel Scherer, was implicated in her death. Scherer was charged with murder in connection with his wife’s death. Scherer admitted that he strangled his wife, but claimed mental illness as a defense.

The Trial

At trial, Prosecutor James Gubitose argued that mental illness alone was not enough to absolve Scherer of responsibility for the murder of his wife. Gubitose told the jury, “Millions of people in the United States suffer from mental health issues. . . . Does that mean they’re all not criminally responsible and can do whatever they want?” Gubitose argued that Scherer “knew what he was doing. . . . Every credible piece of evidence shows you that.”

Scherer’s own expert witness, psychologist Mark Schaeffer, provided the most damaging piece of evidence. Schaeffer testified that there was no evidence that Scherer was psychotic at the time that he strangled and smothered his wife. Schaeffer also conceded that there was no evidence that Scherer was psychotic at any point during 2015.

Gubitose pointed out that, “Dr. Schaefer even said he could appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions. . . . He knew what he was doing was wrong, according to the expert hired to help him. He was thinking clearly enough to understand that what he was doing when he was killing Edie was wrong.”  Gubitose also took issue with the fact that the expert had decided not to listen to the recording of the interview with the police before he concluded that Scherer was not criminally responsible.

Scherer’s defense attorney, Michael Phelan, argued that “If Axel Scherer wasn’t mentally ill, Edith would be here today.” He told the jury that his client had suffered from bipolar disorder in 2013 and 2014 and that he had been hospitalized in a manic state with psychotic features. Phelan said, “Clearly, there’s something going on with Mr. Scherer at this time.”

Phelan urged the jury to consider Scherer’s medical records from jail, where he reported delusions and hallucinations two months after the killing. Additionally, a court clinic psychologist believed that Scherer was psychotic on the day of his arraignment in January 2016. Phelan said that the prosecution’s theory of the case “defies logic” and that Scherer had no benefit to gain from the killing of his wife.

The Sentencing

Scherer, 48, was convicted of second-degree murder. He will receive life in prison, but become eligible for parole sometime after serving 15 years. Scherer will be sentenced by Salem Superior Court Judge James Lang at a hearing on February 26.

Dna Forensic

Forensic DNA Scientist Links Evidence to Accused Murderer

A forensic DNA scientist has linked several pieces of evidence to an accused murderer who is standing trial for the beating, stabbing, and strangling of a Temple University student.

The Murder

On September 2, 2017, George Stabilito had breakfast with his wife and then went to her property eight miles away to check on her yard. He looked inside the lakeside shed, into which snakes occasionally made their way. Instead of finding snakes, Stabilito found a large blue storage bin with a body inside.

The body of Jenna Burleigh, a 22-year-old Temple University Student, was stuffed inside the plastic storage bin. Her body was naked, her midsection was covered with a blanket, and her right leg was bent and contorted. Burleigh had sustained more than 143 injuries, including two stab wounds and more than 39 head injuries.

The Investigation

When authorities watched surveillance videotapes from a few nights before Burleigh’s body was found, they saw Joshua Hupperterz and Jenna Burleigh sitting and talking together at a bar and then leaving the bar together at around 2:00 a.m. The two were then seen walking toward Hupperterz’s apartment building.

According to prosecutors, Joshua Hupperterz met Burleigh at a bar on August 31, 2017, and they went back to his apartment to have consensual sex. They contend that the sex turned violent and Hupperterz beat Burleigh, stabbed her, smashed a cereal bowl over her head, and strangled her on the kitchen floor.

Hupperterz has since admitted to transporting Burleigh’s body to his mother’s garage and then to his grandmother’s property, but denies killing her. Instead, Hupperterz claims that his roommate, Jack Miley, intervened in the fight and strangled Burleigh. Miley has denied any role in the crime.

Huppertz was charged with murder, abuse of a corpse, and separate drug-related charges. Assistant District Attorney Jason Grenell said that the District Attorney’s Office offered Hupperterz a plea deal, but he rejected the deal. The plea deal was for Hupperterz to plead guilty to third-degree murder and be sentenced to 30 to 60 years in state prison. Since Hupperterz chose to go to trial, he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if he is convicted of first or second-degree murder.

The Trial

At trial, the state trooper who was present at the autopsy testified that the medical examiner took nail clippings from each of Burleigh’s hands. The Philadelphia forensic scientist and DNA expert took the stand and testified that the genetic profile from the nail clippings matched the DNA of Hupperterz, and not his roommate.

The forensic DNA scientist from the Philadelphia crime lab also testified about evidence that was found at the scene of the crime. The expert matched Hupperterz’s genetic profile to a knife that was found next to the sink. The scientist told the jurors about a boot that was found in the closet of Hupperterz’s roommate, Jack Miley. Prosecutors say that Burleigh was wearing that boot on the night that she died.

The scientist testified that the genetic profile of the material found on the buckle and side of the boot was consistent with Hupperterz. He testified that the DNA was one in 12.64 duodecillion (which includes 39 zeroes) times more consistent with Huppertz than anyone else in the Caucasian population.