A judge has decided to allow expert fingerprint testimony in a murder trial, despite concern that there were also other fingerprint matches.
The body of 35-year-old Tara O’Shea-Watson was found in December 2016 with stab wounds all over her throat, chest, and stomach. Her body was found in her home near two Christmas trees, covered with a blanket that was decorated with Disney princesses and flowers.
Prosecutors allege that Jeremiah Monell killed his estranged wife O’Shea-Watson in front of their 12-year-old son and then evaded the police for two weeks. The boy and his 5-year-old sister went to the home of a neighbor after the alleged murder of their mother. The neighbor said that the two showed up at her house on the day of the murder. When she asked the boy where his mom was, he said, “Mommy is dead. Daddy killed her.”
O’Shea-Watson left behind two children with Monell, along with three others from different relationships. She had a restraining order against the alleged killer at the time of her death.
Monell was charged with first-degree murder, weapons offenses, and contempt in connection with O’Shea-Watson’s death. If convicted on the murder charge, he faces a prison term of life without the possibility of parole.
Murder Trial of Jeremiah Monell
At Monell’s trial, his attorney JoEllyn Jones proclaimed his innocence and asked the jury to determine whether everything that is said during the trial makes sense. She said, “You’re going to be left with more questions than answers…. All the pieces won’t neatly fit in a puzzle and give you the picture that the government just painted for you.”
The first three witnesses to be called to the stand were State Police Sergeant John Dehart, Detective Sergeant Eric Crain, and Detective Michael Hughes.
Sergeant Dehart testified that when he arrived, he saw a body covered by the blanket and nearby Christmas trees. After surveying the scene, another office pulled back the blanket. He said, “I saw a white female that had a cut to her neck and multiple puncture wounds that appeared to be on her torso…. I also observed a small portion of blood underneath the body.” Detective Hughes and Detective Crain described a similar scene.
Defense attorneys made a motion to exclude Detective Sergeant Eric Crain’s expert testimony on fingerprint identification and analysis. Detective Crain testified that he collected prints from a bloody knife from O’Shea-Watson’s home and another bloody knife that was found behind the kitchen stove.
Crain explained that an Automated Fingerprint Identification System lab found 40 points of comparison to Monell’s prints. Crain made his own comparison and then had another detective verify the results. There were eight other possible matches for fingerprints, but Monell’s was the top-ranked match.
One of Monell’s attorneys, Nathan Perry, argued that the results were “unreliable” because there were eight other possible matches. Superior Court Judge Cristen D’Arrigo decided that Crain’s testimony was admissible and denied the defense’s motion.