Tag Archives: DNA expert witness

High Profile Forensic Expert Witness Rejected due to Questionable Qualifications

A DNA expert witness who has testified on behalf of defendants in several high profile trials was dismissed from a Colorado courtroom for being unqualified.  The expert’s dismissal could result in attorneys being less likely to use him, however, he argues the judge’s decision to denounce his qualifications was made in error and his expert testimony is scientifically validated.

High Profile Expert Witness Dismissed from Colorado Trial

Richard Eikelenboom is a forensic scientist who has testified as a DNA expert witness in several high profile trials across the country, most notably on behalf of Casey Anthony who was acquitted by a Florida jury in 2011 on all charges stemming from her 3-year-old daughter’s death.  Eikelenboom took the stand in the Casey Anthony trial as a DNA expert, and told jurors that there was not sufficient forensic evidence to connect Anthony to her daughter’s death.  His DNA expert testimony contributed in part to her acquittal, and Eikelenboom has been called as a forensic expert for several years in trials across the country.

Last week, Eikelenboom’s reputation and position as a DNA expert witness suffered a significant blow when a Denver judge discredited his qualifications to testify about forensic evidence in court.  During testimony in a 2013 sexual assault case, the judge presiding over the trial found that Eikelenboom had committed serious errors in his DNA analysis by failing to follow proper scientific standards set by other professionals in the field.  According to prosecutors in the case, Eikelenboom admitted on the stand that he did not have experience directly extracting or analyzing DNA, that his lab is not properly accredited, and that he himself failed proficiency tests in 2011 and 2012.

After hearing about flaws in Eikelenboom’s analysis and proficiency level, the Denver judge rejected his testimony by finding he was unqualified to take the stand.  Since being dismissed as an unqualified expert, Eikelenboom has attempted to dispute the judge’s conclusion and offer assurances that his forensic expert testimony is built on sound principles and methods.

Debunked Expert Witness Defends Qualifications

Speaking to the media after being dismissed from testifying as a forensic expert witness, Richard Eikelenboom attempted to address the accusations that he does not produce reliable DNA analysis.  Calling the claims that his methodology is fundamentally flawed “completely unfounded,” Eikelenboom told reporters that the prosecutors manipulated his responses in order to paint an inaccurate portrayal. According to Eikelenboom, the trial judge did not completely understand his work or his qualifications, and therefore made the decision to reject his testimony without all of the relevant facts.

Eikelenboom also pointed out that his lab has received accreditation from two separate professional organizations, including the American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD).  Additionally, some of the disputed DNA testing which prosecutors used as proof that he was not qualified was conducted decades ago, and Eikelenboom maintains that he has received the proper training and education to act as a forensic science expert witness.  He also told the press that his professional name and reputation has been slandered, and announced intentions to contact a lawyer.

Forensic Expert’s Dismissal Could Limit Future Opportunities

Prior to last week’s challenge to his professional reputation, Eikelenboom testified in several criminal trials, several of which resulted in defendants being acquitted of fairly serious charges.  In addition to Casey Anthony, the forensic expert was called by former Indiana State Trooper David Camm who was acquitted of killing his wife and children, and helped overturn a murder conviction of Tim Masters, a Colorado man who spent more than 20 years in prison before DNA analysis conducted by Eikelenboom’s lab was used to exonerate him.   While none of the past work can be impacted by last week’s decision, Eikelenboom’s future as an expert witness may be in jeopardy.

Forensic science expert witnesses are widely used in criminal trials across the country, and competition for the opportunity to testify as an expert can be significant.  Experts rely on their professional reputation in order to market their skill set, and Eikelenboom’s recent dismissal will likely impact his opportunities going forward.  Attorneys will be hesitant to hire an expert whose qualifications have been questioned, even if the expert has testified successfully in high profile cases.

DNA Experts Exonerate Wrongfully Convicted Indiana Man After 25-Years in Prison

A report by a DNA expert witness was key in clearing an innocent man wrongfully convicted of a 1989 rape allegation.  Late last month the former inmate greeted his family as a free man after spending nearly 25 years in prison for a crime he did not convict when DNA expert witness evidence finally exonerated him.

Indiana Man Freed From Prison with DNA Expert Evidence

In 1991 Darryl Pinkins, now 63 years old, was convicted of a brutal sexual assault on a woman for allegedly being part of a trio of men who bumped their car into the victim’s, pulled her inside their vehicle, and raped her for several hours.  During the trial and investigation Pinkins was identified by the victim as her assailant, and he was convicted despite his repeated claims that he was in bed with his wife on the night of the attack.  During the nearly 25 years Pinkins spent behind bars he maintained his innocence before being finally vindicated by DNA.

In late April, Pinkins was freed from prison and informed that prosecutors would not pursue his case further, meaning his quarter century ordeal is over.  Pinkins was greeted by his 24-year-old son, family, friends, and members of the Innocence Project – the legal aid organization which dedicates its efforts to using DNA to overturn wrongful convictions.  Pinkins has lost his teeth, suffers from diabetes, and developed thyroid disease during his lengthy prison stay, but expressed confidence that this day was meant to be because he knew that he was an innocent man.

The DNA evidence used to earn Pinkins’ release is new technology which is being used by prosecutors and police across the country to identify defendants as guilty parties, and this case is the first to take advantage of the software as a tool for exonerating wrongfully imprisoned individuals.

Darryl Pinkins Exonerated with True Allele DNA Expert Software

For the past 15 years members of the Indiana and Idaho Innocence Projects have worked together to obtain sufficient DNA evidence to free Darryl Pinkins, and a new DNA expert witness software finally provided the opportunity.  True Allele, which faces stiff legal challenges over its source code, is an increasingly popular tool which has refined forensic DNA science by improving the ability to parse out a single person’s DNA from potentially incomplete or mixed samples.  True Allele has gained traction in several eastern states by police and prosecutors who believe the software is uniquely qualified in providing accurate DNA matches which connect suspects to crimes in a way no other DNA analysis tool can.

Up until the Darryl Pinkins case, True Allele has not been used to exonerate wrongfully convicted defendants, but the lawyers and law students of the Indiana and Idaho Innocence Projects saw an opportunity to apply new DNA expert technology to their mission.  Two Innocence Projects DNA expert witnesses used the True Allele software to test the samples gathered from the 1991 crime scene, and prepared a report which informed prosecutors that Pinkins could not have been involved in the brutal sexual assault.  The experts were prepared to testify in a hearing on the matter, but after reading their DNA report, prosecutors decided to vacate Pinkins’ conviction and release him from prison immediately.

The True Allele technology was not available in 1991 when Pinkins was first convicted, but the spread of the tool has given prosecutors cause to utilize DNA expert witnesses to ensure the right defendants are prosecuted for crimes in order to avoid future wrongful convictions.

DNA Expert Preaches the Value of True Allele Software

Greg Hampikian, one of the two DNA expert witnesses hired by the Innocence Project to free Darryl Pinkins, praised the True Allele system for providing the opportunity to improve accuracy of criminal convictions.  Hampikian told reporters that he felt the tool should be used to review all DNA cases in which there were complex samples or inconclusive results by saying, “This technology holds the key not just to answering complex DNA problems, but the literal key to freedom for men like Daryl Pinkins.”  DNA experts like Hampikian believe the use of True Allele has the potential to affect convictions throughout the United States by providing defendants convicted without reliable DNA evidence the opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of their trials.

As True Allele becomes more common of a tool for police and prosecutors, it is not surprising that groups like the Innocence Project will take the opportunity to use the software as a tool to exonerate wrongfully convicted defendants.  While its wide-spread application will take time, the development of True Allele as a tool for exoneration is a foreseeable next step in DNA expert technology.

Pennsylvania Judge Denies Access to Source Code Behind DNA Expert Witness Software

Last year we covered a Pennsylvania legal dispute over DNA testing software used by forensic expert witnesses in criminal trials.  Earlier this week the case took another turn when a Pennsylvania judge blocked defense lawyers from accessing the source code for the software, rejecting arguments that the Sixth Amendment mandated the DNA expert witnesses turn over the details of their methodology.

Defense Attorneys Challenge DNA Expert Witness Software

In Pennsylvania and across the country forensic DNA expert witnesses have increasingly relied on a software program which, according to its creators, is able to improve the accuracy of DNA testing significantly.  The program, called TrueAllele, can provide police investigators and prosecutors with a positive match using DNA found at a crime scene by comparing it to large databases of stored genetic material.  Experts analyze genetic material using the TrueAllele program in order to single out individuals who are linked to the crime, and it has been used in sexual assault, homicide, and property destruction criminal trials.

Pennsylvania and several other states have widely adopted expert witness use of TrueAllele with several police departments and trial courts fully integrating the program.  The program has gained favor because of its ability to parse out individual DNA from multiple sources, which is a feature most crime labs are unable to accommodate.  TrueAllele’s DNA analysis is more thorough than competing tools, giving investigators better opportunity to single out suspects.  Despite the software’s growing acceptance in the legal system, defense attorneys in Pennsylvania have resisted its continued use because they are unable to gain access to TrueAllele’s source code.

Defense Attorneys Petition to Access TrueAllele’s Source Code

Defense attorneys for Michael Robinson, a man charged with shooting and killing two men in Allegheny, PA, argued that the hidden source code behind TrueAllele denied their client the opportunity to adequately confront all of the evidence against him.  Robinson’s attorneys, like others before them, argued that the mysterious software program may provide DNA results which police and prosecutors find useful, but its reliability and accuracy cannot be adequately tested without other experts fully analyzing the code which the program uses to parse out genetic material.

TrueAllele has not been in circulation for very long, and defense attorneys claim that without verification by independent experts there are too many unanswered questions about its accuracy to trust.  DNA evidence, which is heavily used in criminal trials, was the center of a scandal last May when the FBI admitted to providing inaccurate expert witness testimony at hundreds of trials due to faulty tools of analysis, and defense attorneys have shown a hesitancy to accept forensic analysis technology at face value.

TureAllele’s creator, computer scientist Mark Perlin, has consistently resisted sharing his source code by arguing it would be economically disadvantageous for his company to do so.  Currently Mr. Perlin’s company Cybergenetics is the only one using the software, and he does not want to disclose trade secrets as part of a criminal trial.

Pennsylvania Judge Protects DNA Software Source Code

In response to requests by attorneys for Michael Robinson who requested the TrueAllele source code be revealed as part of their cross-examination of prosecutor DNA expert witnesses, Judge Jill E. Rangos said the defense did not sufficiently demonstrate the need for the source code.  According to Judge Rangos, requiring Cybergenetics to disclose the source code has “the potential to cause great harm” because of it is a highly valuable trade secret which no other company is able to duplicate at this time.  Further, Judge Rangos said that revealing the source code is not “the lynchpin to undermining the Commonwealth’s case” against Robinson, and therefore the defense does not have sufficient reason to put Mr. Perlin’s business at risk by exposing his code.

Robinson’s defense team publically disagreed with the ruling, maintaining that defendants have a 6th Amendment right to adequately confront witnesses, and in this case that means challenging the foundation of the technology used by expert witnesses who provide DNA testimony.  Perlin maintains that experts do not even use the source code, but simply rely on the technology to produce a result after they input data and attorneys can safely test the extent of the expert’s knowledge and methodology without access to the underlying code of the software.

Judge Rangos’s ruling echoes the result from a handful of other criminal courts across Pennsylvania and other states, so for now DNA expert witnesses can safely use TrueAllele without Cybergenetics revealing the protected source code.

Technology Used by DNA Expert Witnesses Faces Scrutiny from Defense Attorneys

Law-enforcement and defense attorneys in Pennsylvania have engaged in a legal battle over technology used by DNA expert witnesses to narrow down suspects and identify criminal defendants.  Use of a computer program which unravels DNA inter-mixed at crime scenes has been disputed by defense lawyers who do not have access to its programming source code.

DNA Experts in Pennsylvania use High Tech Program

Over the last few years technology has emerged which allows law-enforcement officials to parse through mixed DNA samples taken from crime scenes in order to positively identify a single suspect.  TrueAllele, developed by the Pittsburgh-based company Cybergenetics, is able to infer a genetic profile from DNA and match it with large databases in order to provide police and prosecutors with positive matches.  According to the TrueAllele website, the technology reduces the chances of misidentification, operates without bias against certain suspects, and meets all legal and scientific guidelines for reliability.

The software is billed as a DNA identification tool for use by police investigating sexual assault, homicide, property crimes, and mass disasters.  In each case the TrueAllele software is able to single out “major and minor contributors” to the incident with the goal of assisting law-enforcement in identifying, arresting, and prosecuting parties responsible for criminal activity.  TrueAllele has been widely used in at least six states across the country including New York and Pennsylvania, but recently defense attorneys have pushed back against the software because expert witnesses who use it are unable to provide details about how the program works.

TrueAllele DNA Identification Software Challenged by Defense Attorneys

Defense attorneys who have been involved in cases where TrueAllele was used to connect defendants to a crime argue that secrecy surrounding the software combined with its impact on jurors violates suspect’s constitutional right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.  Citing a phenomenon known as the “CSI effect” concerned defense attorneys point out jurors not only expect scientific evidence, but place heavy reliance on it when making final verdict decisions.  The impact of DNA expert witnesses using TrueAllele on trials is significant, and with the software’s creators refusing to provide defense attorneys with the source code some attorneys questioning the legitimacy of the program’s use in criminal cases.

According to TrueAllele creator Mark Perlin, the program’s source code is a protected trade secret, but defense attorneys should be satisfied with its validity because of the software’s repeated use in trials to both identify guilty subjects and exculpate innocent ones.  Additionally TrueAllele has survived intense peer-review scrutiny by top DNA and computer program experts who attest to the software’s ability at accurately identifying DNA matches when crime scenes contain samples which make identifying one individual difficult.

Defense attorneys are not convinced, however, and argue the risk of miscodes or inaccuracies in TrueAllele’s source code can result in false convictions of innocent defendants.  Without access to the underlying code in a program DNA expert witnesses are citing to positively make matches that jurors will heavily rely on in their verdict decision, defendants arguably are not given a fair opportunity to challenge the evidence presented against them.

DNA Expert Witness Software Faces Legal Challenge

Defense attorneys for a man accused of murder in Pennsylvania have challenged the admissibility of TrueAllele evidence presented by a DNA expert witness by arguing the validity and methodology of the measure cannot be verified without access to the underlying source code.  Suspicion surrounding TrueAllele is driven by an announcement by the FBI in May that work done by forensic expert witnesses working for the agency on thousands of cases may be inaccurate due to faulty DNA identification software.  With the integrity of thousands of convictions at risk due to errors in DNA matching, defense attorneys are understandably suspicious of a software program with source code they cannot independently verify.

Despite the arguments against the use of DNA experts using TrueAllele, the software has been accepted in a number of criminal trials as reliable and scientifically valid evidence for expert witnesses to use when explaining forensic analysis to jurors.  TrueAllele has a short history, but its gaining acceptance indicates the software has been vetted more thoroughly than the programs which created errors for FBI expert witnesses.  Whether or not defense attorneys gain access to the source code, the use of TrueAllele by DNA expert witnesses seems likely to expand as trials increasingly rely on forensic analysis for reliable evidence.

New Hampshire Prep School Case Features DNA Expert Witnesses

The high profile rape trial of a former prep school student ended without a rape conviction despite DNA evidence presented last week by forensic expert witnesses called by prosecutors to connect the defendant to his alleged crime.  While jurors were unwilling to convict the defendant of rape, they found the DNA to be enough to issue a guilty verdict in the lesser charge of having consensual sex with a minor.

Prosecution Presents Evidence in Prep School Rape Case

Prosecutors in New Hampshire rested their case against Owen Labrie, a graduate of the state’s elite prep school St. Paul’s who was accused of raping a 15-year-old female classmate prior to his graduation.  During the prosecution’s case, Concord Police Detective Julie Curtin, who investigated the case, took the stand to tell the jury that Labrie had admitted to consensual touching and kissing, and told police that he had prepared for intercourse by putting on a condom.  However, Labrie denied he had sex with, or raped, the alleged victim.

Several witnesses present at the scene of the alleged assault testified for the prosecution, but the most compelling evidence of Labrie’s involvement with the teenager came from a forensic expert witness who connected the defendant’s DNA to the victim’s underwear.

DNA Expert Witnesses Connect Defendant to Alleged Victim

In wrapping up its case against Labrie, the prosecution called two criminalists from the New Hampshire State Police Laboratory to serve as forensic expert witnesses.  Kevin G. McMahon testified first and told jurors that in his expert opinion, DNA testing found on the alleged victim’s underwear suggested a “strong indication of semen” that was connected to the defendant.  McMahon’s expert testimony was supported by criminalist Kate Swango who performed tests on the girl’s underwear.

According to Swango, her testing demonstrated that Labrie’s DNA was present on the underwear “to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.”  The prosecution expert witnesses combined to argue that Labrie’s DNA sample, which was likely semen, was present on the young girl’s undergarments.  According to prosecutors this evidence, combined with the girl’s testimony that she did not consent to the sexual encounter, demonstrated a case for rape.

DNA Expert Witnesses Fail to Secure Rape Conviction

Defense attorneys for Labrie took both of the prosecution expert witnesses to task for concluding that the DNA found on the underpants was, in fact, semen and not some other liquid such as saliva or sweat.  Under testimony Swango, after consulting her and McMahon’s notes, admitted that the expert witnesses had not determined the exact source of the defendant’s DNA.  Calling the expert testimony into question, attorneys for Labrie argued to the jury that the young man had engaged in some consensual sexual activity, but had not had intercourse with the girl or acted against her stated will.

After all the evidence was presented, jurors issued a compromise verdict that declined to find Labrie guilty of rape, but did determine that he did engage in sexual activity with a girl who was below the age of consent.  Given the result of the trial, it appears that the jurors placed more emphasis on the uncertainty of the situation as told by the victim and defendant than on the forensic evidence discussed by the prosecution’s expert witnesses.

Jesse Matthew Sexual Assault Trial Ends with Alford Plea After DNA Expert Testimony

The high profile sexual assault trial of alleged serial predator Jesse Matthew Jr came to a surprising end this week when the defendant withdrew his defense and was subsequently convicted by a Virginia judge.  In the face of expert witness testimony linking his DNA to the scene of the attack, Matthew elected to give up on his case, leading to a conviction that could result in consecutive life sentences.

Jesse Matthew Jr. Linked Forensically to Sexual Assaults and Murders

On a late evening in September of 2005, a 26-year-old woman studying in America from overseas was walking home in the dark when she was attacked from behind by an unknown stranger and dragged into a dark grassy area.  Once off the path, he began sexually assaulting her, threatening to kill her if she screamed before suddenly running away, possibly due to approaching headlights that temporarily illuminated the area where the attack took place.

For nearly a decade the case remained unsolved without any leads on the identity of the attacker, but the situation changed late last year when investigators in Fairfax, VA met with Matthew while looking into the 2014 disappearance and death of University of Virginia student, Hannah Graham.  According to police and prosecutors, Matthew Jr. left traces of DNA on Graham’s body that matched the 2005 victim.  Matthew has also been linked forensically to the body of a murdered Virginia Tech student, Morgan Harrington.

During his trial for the 2005 sexual assault, forensic experts connected the DNA discovered in subsequent investigations to the victim, causing Matthew to enter an Alford plea and drop his defense case.  An Alford plea means the defendant does not admit guilt, but concedes that the prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him and gives up on his defense strategy. As a result of the plea, Judge David Schell found sufficient evidence to convict Matthew of attempted capital murder, abduction with intent to defile, and sexual assault.

Forensic Expert Witnesses Link DNA from Assault to Jesse Matthew

The prosecution began its case with testimony from witnesses to the scene of the attack and the victim herself, however, were unable to get a positive visual ID on Matthew.  In order to connect the defendant to the crime, prosecutors relied on testimony from an expert witness who was able to identify DNA under the victim’s fingernails as a likely match to Matthew’s DNA collected during investigation into his alleged subsequent assaults.  According to Dr. Elizabeth Ballard, a forensic scientist who is an expert in DNA analysis, the chance of the DNA collected from the victim not belonging to Matthew is less than one in 7.2 billion.

In an effort to argue against the DNA evidence discussed by the prosecution’s expert witness, the defense pointed out that the presence of Matthew’s DNA under the victim’s fingernail was not sufficient to tie him to the crime.  Pointing out that the DNA could have been transferred to the victim inadvertently by contact with a common surface, defense attorneys attempted to argue for reasonable doubt in the fact of strong expert testimony that forensically linked Matthew to the attack.  Before defense attorneys could mount a more stringent defense, however, Matthew voluntarily withdrew his case and entered the Alford plea.  Under the terms of the plea, Matthew could face up to 3 consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole.

Jesse Matthew Faces Capital Murder Charges in College Student Murder

The resolution of the 2005 sexual assault case against Matthew does not conclude his legal case.  Prosecutors have already charged him with capital murder for the assault and killing of Hannah Graham in 2014.  Although prosecutors in the Graham case cannot use Matthew’s conviction against him during trial, if he is found guilty for the murder of Graham the State can use the sexual assault case to demonstrate likelihood of future dangerousness – an element necessary to earning the death penalty in Virginia.

Details of the Graham case have not been revealed because a trial date has not been set, but DNA expert testimony will definitely play an important role in that prosecution as well because Matthew has been linked forensically to the Hannah’s remains.  Matthew has not yet been charged for the fatal assault on Morgan Harrington, which is the third attack that he his DNA has been linked to by forensic expert investigators.  Matthews will be sentenced under the terms of his Alford plea later this month.

Aaron Hernandez Murder Trial Features Expert Witness Testimony

The murder trial of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez continued this week with prosecutors presenting two expert witnesses who placed the defendant and the victim at the scene of the shooting. As Hernandez’s murder trial progresses, prosecutors have built their case with experts to interpret the evidence for jurors and fingerprint and DNA testimony is the latest attempt to bolster the state’s case.

Aaron Hernandez on Trial for Murder

Hernandez is on trial for the murder of Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old acquaintance of the former New England Patriot who was shot and killed on June 17th, 2013. Prosecutors charged Hernandez after police investigators uncovered evidence placing Lloyd and Hernandez together on the night of the murder and a series of communications between the two that indicated they had a recent disagreement.

Although the gun used to shoot Lloyd has not been found, and police have not been able to directly point to Hernandez as the shooter, the defendant can be found guilty of murder under a Massachusetts “joint venture” law that allows for conviction of any person who knowingly participated in a plan to commit the crime. Hernandez, who allegedly worked with two other men to orchestrate Lloyd’s killing, was arrested on June 26th, 2013 with his trial opening on January 29th of this year.

Police Fingerprint Expert Witness Testifies in Hernandez Murder Trial

Massachusetts State Police Trooper David Mackin took the stand this week to explain the fingerprint process that investigators used to place Hernandez and two alleged accomplices, Ernest Wallace, Jr. and Carlos Ortiz, at the scene of Lloyd’s murder. Central to Mackin’s testimony was evidence found in a Nissan Altima that prosecutors allege Hernandez rented in order to transport Lloyd to the murder scene on the night of June 17th. According to Mackin’s fingerprint investigation, all four men – Hernandez, Lloyd, Wallace, and Ortiz – left fingerprint evidence inside of the vehicle. Hernandez’s were on the driver’s side door handle and Lloyd’s were on the rear passenger door.

DNA Expert Witness Corroborates Prosecution in Hernandez Trial

Adding to the testimony from Trooper Mackin, prosecutors looked to a DNA expert witness from the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab, Diana Fife Biagotti. Biagotti testified that DNA from Hernandez and Lloyd were found on the remains of a marijuana cigarette butt from the scene of the shooting, supporting the prosecution’s claim that the two men were together in the place where Lloyd was killed. Further, Biagotti testified that the defendant’s DNA was detected on a shell casing recovered from the Altima after it was returned to the rental agency. Police investigators recovered the shell casing stuck to a piece of chewing gum, and, according to Biagotti’s expert testimony, the casing contained evidence that Hernandez had handled it after it was fired.

Hernandez Attorneys Challenge Prosecution Expert Witnesses

Attorney for Hernandez, James Sultan, took both prosecution expert witnesses to task for failing to reconstruct a complete story of the night of the shooting. Sultan accused both experts of coming to conclusions that they wanted to see or hoped to see rather than objectively testifying about the facts of the case. In response to Trooper Mackin’s fingerprint testimony, Sultan pointed out that the fingerprints in the Altima could have been made at any time, and did not necessarily support the conclusion that Hernandez and Lloyd were in the vehicle together. Sultan also question Biagotti for failing to test other items found in the vehicle for DNA, suggesting that the police cherry picked evidence rather than conduct a thorough investigation.

Prosecutors have also presented expert witnesses on forensic video evidence to analyze footage of Hernandez’s activities on the night in question, and on crime scene reconstruction to suggest that Lloyd’s killers were in close proximity to him when he was shot. Sultan has challenged each expert for failing to fully connect all the dots back to Hernandez in order to give jurors an accurate picture of Lloyd’s murder. The trial is expected to last late into March with the defense yet to present its case.

Jesse Matthew Murder Trial on Hold for DNA Expert Witness

The murder trial of Jesse Matthew, Jr. has been delayed after a judge ruled this week that the defense would be entitled time to use the services of a state-appointed DNA expert witness.  Matthew is facing trial for murder in the death of Hannah Graham late last year, and will consult a DNA expert prior to mounting his defense.

Jesse Matthew, Jr. a Suspect in the Death of Hannah Graham

Graham, a student at the University of Virginia, disappeared in September of last year after a night out.  Suspicion fell on Matthew after surveillance footage showed him leaving a Virginia bar with Graham on the night she disappeared.  In October, Graham’s remains were discovered on an abandoned farm near UVA’s campus near the location of the remains of a Virginia Tech student, Morgan Harrington, that were discovered in 2010.

After a brief investigation, Matthew was arrested for Graham’s disappearance and death, leading to evidence that he was involved with Harrington’s murder as well.  According to police, forensic evidence obtained after Matthew was arrested links him to the death of both girls, leading investigators to issue the following statement, “For the past five years, the Virginia State Police has been aggressively pursuing the investigation into the disappearance and death of 20-year-old Morgan D. Harrington of Roanoke, Va. Last week, the arrest of Jesse L. Matthew Jr., 32, of Charlottesville, Va., provided a significant break in this case with a new forensic link for state police investigators to pursue.”

Although the investigation continued after Matthew was arrested, police and prosecutors presented preliminary forensic evidence sufficient to charge the defendant with the murder of both Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington, as well as a 2005 sexual assault that took place in northern Virginia.

Jesse Matthew Requests Delay to Hire DNA Expert Witness

Given the forensic evidence linking Matthew to both murders, his defense team argued that he should be entitled to the opportunity to have a DNA expert witness evaluate the evidence and provide a report.  With the trial set to begin on June 29th, Matthew’s defense attorneys argued that they needed more time to allow them to find a DNA expert and review the forensic evidence.  Prosecuting attorney Denise Lunsford acknowledged that the Commonwealth’s case relied “in some way on DNA evidence,” and did not object to the motion to delay the trial in order to find the appropriate expert witness.

After reviewing Matthew’s request, the trial judge overseeing the proceedings granted his request to continue the trial in order to appoint a qualified DNA expert witness to review the forensic evidence used by the prosecution.  Given that Matthews is facing 20-years to life for his alleged crimes, the ruling comes as no surprise.  Defendants are entitled to a full and fair defense in criminal trials, and the seriousness of the charges combined with the prosecution’s reliance on forensic evidence necessitates a ruling that Matthew be entitled to the appointment of a DNA expert to testify in the upcoming trial.

The judge did not set a new trial date, but a hearing on May 5th will finalize the details of the trial and the expert witness who will be appointed to the defendant’s case.

Vehicular Manslaughter Trial Turns to DNA Expert Witnesses

A vehicular homicide trial in Fayette County, Georgia featured DNA expert witness testimony focused on determining whether or not the Defendant was behind the wheel at the time of a fatal one-car accident. Serene Richter, 46, stands accused of causing the accident while under the influence of alcohol, but has disputed the prosecution’s ability to prove that she was driving the car and caused the crash that killed Samuel McKnight, 44.

Driver Uncertain in Vehicular Homicide Trial

On June 6th, 2011 a Hummer H3 carrying both Richter and McKnight careened off Bute Road in North Union, Georgia, rolled several times, and killed the 44-year-old McKnight after striking a telephone poll. After investigation into the accident, police charged Richter with homicide by vehicle, homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, driving under the influence, and several traffic violations. Prosecutors claim that Richter was driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.142 at the time of the accident, making her guilty of all charges.

Richter’s attorney, in response, contends that it was Samuel McKnight, whose blood alcohol level was 0.255, who was driving the car and Richter was the passenger. In an effort to settle the dispute over which occupant was behind the wheel of the vehicle, two forensic expert witnesses were called to discuss DNA evidence on the driver’s side airbag that could identify who caused the accident.

Vehicle Manslaughter Case Uses DNA Expert Witnesses

Amy Irwin, a forensic DNA expert witness from the police crime lab, took the stand to explain that she and another scientists studied DNA profiles of samples taken from the driver’s and passenger’s side airbags of the H3. According to Irwin, the passenger airbag did not provide sufficient DNA to identify either Richter or McKnight as the passenger, but aided prosecutors by testifying that there was substantial DNA on the driver’s side but none of it belonged to McKnight – indicating that he had not been driving at the time of the accident.

Sara Harner, another DNA expert witness working as a police forensic scientist, supported Irwin’s findings by testifying that Richter’s DNA was on the driver’s side airbag but not on the passenger side. Both expert witnesses withstood rigorous questioning from Richter’s attorneys regarding the reliability of the DNA evidence due to the fact that the samples were not collected from the vehicle until a week after the crash, and spent more than two years in storage before laboratory testing.  Harner, however, told the court that the DNA was properly stored and untainted.

DNA Expert Testimony Tells Partial Story

While the testimony by DNA expert witnesses Irwin and Harner bolster the prosecution’s argument by indicating that Richter was on the driver’s side while McKnight was not, both forensic experts acknowledged that the DNA did not definitively align the occupants. Attorneys for Richter concluded the cross examination by inquiring whether or not it was reasonable that the placement of DNA was the result of unrestrained occupants shifting places while the vehicle rolled, and the experts had to concede that possibility.

Although DNA results carry gravitas as convincing physical evidence, the Richter trial demonstrates that it cannot make an open-and-shut case, particularly in a criminal trial where prosecutors must convince jurors of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Whenever DNA traces are left behind, attorneys must investigate the circumstances of the incident to piece together the puzzle explaining exactly how and why the DNA was present at the scene. Given the weight attached to DNA, attorneys opposing the evidence must be prepared to question forensic experts in such a manner that casts doubt on the strength and integrity of the evidence. Whether or not Richter’s attorney poked sufficient holes in the prosecution’s DNA expert testimony by casting doubt on the evidence’s ability to affirmatively place the defendant behind the wheel remains to be seen as the trial is expected to go to jury in the coming weeks.

DNA Experts Duel in New York Murder Trial

DNA expert witnesses dueled last week in the New York murder trial of Timothy Matthew Jacoby, accused of shooting and killing 55-year-old Monica Schmeyer during a 2010 burglary.  Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the murder, so the testimony of DNA experts will prove crucial to the defendant’s fate.

Firearms Expert Testifies in Murder Trial

Earlier in the murder trial of Timothy Jacoby, prosecutors called state police Cpl. David Krumbine to link the bullet that killed Monica Schmeyer to shell casings found on a farm owned by the defendant.  According to the prosecutors, Jacoby killed Schmeyer during a burglary attempt in her secluded home.  In addition to connecting the shell casings at Jacoby’s farm to the bullet that killed Schmeyer, Krumbine was asked to analyze the pistol barrel found in a Mason jar filled with coins in Jacoby’s home to determine if the bullet matched.

Krumbine’s expert testimony informed the jury that the barrel found in Jacoby’s home was the same caliber as the bullet that killed Schmeyer.  Going further, Krumbine pointed out a defect in the barrel – a gouge at its mouth that would influence bullets fired from the gun.  The bullets Krumbine test-fired from the gun had gouges as a result of the barrel, as did the bullet that killed Monica Schmeyer. However, during cross-examination Cpl. Krumbine admitted that there were several other scratches in the barrel that made it impossible to determine for certain if the fatal bullet was fired from it.

Although Krumbine testified that the shell casings found on Jacoby’s farm and the bullet that killed Schmeyere were fired from the same gun, defense attorneys found enough room to raise doubt that Jacoby had committed the murder.  To create further questions, Jacoby’s lawyers called a DNA expert witness to separate him from the scene.

Defense Calls DNA Expert Witness

Jacoby’s defense team called Katherine Cross, the DNA technical leader at Guardian Forensic Services, as a DNA expert witness to call into question evidence found under Schmeyer’s fingernails.  Earlier in the trial, prosecutors connected the DNA found in the fingernails to Jacoby, but Cross told jurors that did not necessarily place the defendant at the scene.

According to Cross, the police investigators conducted too limited a test when analyzing the DNA evidence found at the murder scene.  Cross’s expert DNA testimony explained to jurors that there are several genetic markers that are used to connect the evidence to a suspect, and police used too few to come to a solid conclusion.  The police used 11 markers to identify Jacoby, but in Cross’s expert opinion, the tests were not thorough enough.  Telling jurors, “More markers could define whether it’s Jacoby [or someone else],” Cross testified that she would have examined 23 markers.

Cross concluded her expert DNA testimony by saying that the police’s investigation left the possibility that up to 127 other individuals in the area who could have the same 11 markers as Jacoby, meaning the evidence was insufficient to identify the defendant.

Prosecutors Look to DNA Expert Witness in Murder Trial

To counter Mrs. Cross, prosecutors called a DNA expert witness of their own who cast doubt on the defense team’s expert conclusions.  Christian Westring, director of criminalistics at NMS Labs, criticized Cross’s calculations and, accordingly, her conclusions.  Saying that Cross’s math was misleading because there are not 127 people in the area who could have the same 11 markers as Jacoby, Mr. Westring attempted to rebut the attack on the prosecution’s DNA evidence.

Westring said that in his expert opinion, Cross’s testimony was “irrelevant,” and that he didn’t “see the value in the calculation [because] the mathematics are incorrect and the philosophy behind [the] numbers are flawed.”  Finding Cross’s DNA expert testimony to be misleading, Westring acknowledged that more thorough testing was possible, but emphasized that the investigation was sufficient to narrow the DNA found to Jacoby.  As DNA becomes a regular part of criminal trials, the Jacoby murder case serves as a relevant example of how prosecutors and defense attorneys rely on DNA expert witnesses to argue over the quality of the tests and the validity of their conclusions.