Tag Archives: ballistics expert witness

gun and bullets

Court to Evaluate Validity of Forensic Ballistics

A Virginia court will evaluate the validity of forensic ballistic and firearm examination.

The Crime

On February 17, 2018, 74-year-old Mary Jackson and her pregnant granddaughter, 33-year-old Tiffany Byers, were found shot to death at home. The body of Byers’ husband, 45-year-old Aaron Byers, was later found in a shallow grave on a property owned by 37-year-old Paul Brock.

Justin Collins, who was Mary Jackson’s grandson and Tiffany Byers’ brother, testified that he was at the property at the time of his grandmother’s and sister’s shooting. Collins said that he heard a gunshot and did not see the shooter, but heard his sister say, “Paul, you shot me.” Collins later identified a photo of Paul Brock as a person that he recognized as previously visiting his home.

Brock was charged with three counts of capital murder, fetal homicide, tampering with physical evidence, and being a first-degree felony offender in connection with the deaths. Brock would later admit to killing Aaron Byers, but said it was done in self-defense. Brock claims that he had nothing to do with the deaths of Mary Jackson and Tiffany Byers.

The Forensic Examination

A forensic examiner took apart and examined the bullets that were used to kill Mary Jackson, Tiffany Byers, and Aaron Byers. She examined the pieces under a microscope and determined “that the lands and grooves on each individual bullet were of similar agreement, which is what they call it to determine if they were fired from the same gun … all the bullets from all the bodies came from the same weapon.”

The Commonwealth wanted to present this evidence, but Brock’s defense team objected. The court held a Daubert hearing to determine whether the evidence should be admitted.

The Daubert Hearing

Gregory Klees, an examiner with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, testified as an expert witness for the Commonwealth. Klees testified that the firearms testing was valid and that the theories and techniques of ballistics examination have been subject to review for over 100 years. When asked whether he knew of any jurisdictions that did not allow firearms examination testimony, Klees responded, “Except for some individual court cases, I don’t know of any standard or federal courts that have excluded it all together.”

Brock’s defense team called Dr. Jeff Salyards, a Principal Analyst with Compass Scientific Consulting and former Chief Scientist for the US Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory as an expert witness. Dr. Salyards noted his concern with the validity of the peer-review process used by ballistic examiners. Dr. Salyards testified that until recently, the firearms examination field did not use blind review studies. Dr. Salyards also stated that the average industry error rate of less than 2 percent could be attributable to the way that studies surrounding the forensic science had been set up.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Whitley County Circuit Court Judge Dan Ballou ordered both sides to submit briefs on their arguments. The case is scheduled for one additional status hearing prior to Brock’s jury trial, which is scheduled to begin on September 8, 2021. 

Conviction Reversed Because Defense Expert Not Allowed to Testify

Ballistics Expert Witness Testifies in LA Grim Sleeper Trial

A LAPD police ballistics expert witness defended his research methodology in the trial of Lonnie Franklin Jr., the suspected Grim Sleeper serial killer.  The high profile murder trial continues into its fourth week with prosecutors calling expert witnesses to build their case against Franklin, who has been accused of carrying out 10 murders in the LA area.

Grim Sleeper Murder Trial Continues in LA

Lonnie Franklin Jr. was arrested in July of 2010 in Los Angeles for the alleged murder of 10 women and assault on one woman who survived the attack after DNA evidence linked him to a series of murders in the 1980’s and the early 2000’s.  Franklin, 63, has pleaded not guilty to the crimes, and prosecutors have built their case on eyewitness testimony from the surviving victim, DNA evidence from the crime scene, a photo of a victim that Franklin had, and expert witness analysis of bullet wounds which were allegedly caused by a weapon similar to the one in Franklin’s possession.

The gun allegedly used to commit one of the crimes has become a key piece of evidence against Franklin and was found inside a dresser drawer in his home following his arrest.  During a three day search of Franklin’s home police investigators found 9 guns, but the one in question has become central to the trial because it was allegedly used to kill 25-year-old Janecia Peters, who police believe to be the last of the Grim Sleeper victims.  With the weapon linked to Peters in hand, prosecutors called a forensic weapon expert witness to conduct further investigation into the caliber of gun used in a collection of other murders connected to the Grim Sleeper serial killer.

LAPD Ballistics Expert Witness Testifies in Grim Sleeper Trial

Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman called Daniel Rubin, a LAPD criminalist expert witness, to link the same caliber gun as the one found in Lonnie Franklin Jr.’s home to a series of Grim Sleeper killings.  Rubin testified in court that Franklin’s gun killed Peters, and that the same caliber of weapon was used in seven other Grim Sleeper crimes.  According to Rubin’s expert ballistics analysis, the gun used in the other crimes left a unique signature on the bullets, and, like Franklin’s gun, was a .25-caliber semi-automatic hand gun.  Attorney Silverman used Rubin’s testimony to argue that Franklin followed a pattern of using the same type of weapon to kill his victims.

Attorney Seymour Amster, who represents Franklin, challenged Rubin on the techniques he used to form his expert opinion.  According to Amster’s line of questioning, Rubin used methods which did not qualify him to provide ballistics expert testimony during the trial.  Rubin responded by defending his methodology and informing Amster, and the court, that his methods were widely accepted in the forensic science community.  According to Rubin, his research followed the standard methods of testing ballistic evidence, and his criminalist expert testimony was backed by validated scientific processes which qualify him as an expert.

Grim Sleeper Trial Continues in LA

After the ballistics expert testimony by Daniel Rubin, the prosecution rested its case, leading to an intense confrontation between attorney Amster and Judge Kathleen Kennedy before the defense presented its case.  During a shouting match in the middle of the courtroom, Amster told the judge that he was concerned the case was going to cause him to have a stroke because of the prosecution’s tactics and judge’s rulings.

A brief recess followed, and Amster was able to calm down and give an opening statement which attacked the validity of the DNA evidence used by police investigators to arrest Franklin. As the trial continues this week, Amster will begin calling witnesses to break down the prosecution’s, and will likely include a forensic expert witness to explain his criticism of the DNA evidence.