Tag Archives: firearms 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. 

Firearms Expert Witness Testifies in Wisconsin Murder Trial

Last week, a Wisconsin Rapids, WI judge sentenced Joseph Reinwand to life in prison after a jury found him guilty of murdering Dale Meister in 2008.  The trial concluded a six-year investigation and prosecution, and featured convincing expert testimony from a firearms analyst taking the stand for the prosecution.

Joseph Reinwand Convicted of First-Degree Murder

Joseph Reinwand was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide for the 2008 shooting of Dale Meister.  The two men were connected through Reinwand’s daughter, with whom Meister was embroiled in a bitter custody dispute over a daughter the two shared, and apparently had a contentious relationship prior to Meister’s death.  According to prosecutors, Reinwand visited Mesiter in March, 2008 with the premeditated intent to murder him, and did so by shooting him multiple times in the chest.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors called several witnesses, many of whom testified that Reinwand had threatened to kill Meister on several occasions and frequently argued with the father of his granddaughter.  Key among the witnesses against Reinwand was a firearms expert who testified to jurors that bullets extracted from Meister came from a gun that the defendant possessed at the time of the murder.

Firearms Expert Testifies for Prosecution

Recognizing the need for hard evidence to tie Reinwand to the murder weapon, prosecutors called William Newhouse, a firearms and tool markings expert who retired after a career working for the Wisconsin State Crime Lab.  Newhouse was first tasked with analyzing bullets taken from Meister’s body and a cartridge taken from his couch and comparing them to an unfired bullet that was recovered from Reinwand’s garbage during the investigation.  Newhouse testified to the jury that the bullets were identical.

Going further, Newhouse’s expert testimony connected the bullets from Meister and Reinwand’s garbage to a handgun that several witnesses had seen in the defendant’s possession prior to the murder.  According to Newhouse, the bullets had unique characteristics that could only have come from a Jennings handgun made between 1983 and 1985 – the same type of weapon that people had seen with Reinwand or in places where he had access.  Additionally, Newhouse was able to match a piece of a handgrip that was found in Reinwand’s truck with a Jennings handgun, and strengthen the evidence that the defendant had been connected to the weapon that killed Dale Meister.

Defense attorneys for Reinwand did not present an expert witness to counter the physical evidence against him, but did press Newhouse on cross-examination about the method he applied to connect a handgun fragment to the same Jennings model possessed by the defendant.

Wisconsin Man Sentenced to Life in Prison

Joseph Reinwand declined to take the stand to testify in his own defense, but throughout the trial defense attorneys questioned the validity of the prosecution’s witnesses against him.  Pointing out that the threats issued by Reinwand were vague and second hand, and reminding jurors that DNA evidence was not able to place the defendant at the scene with a high degree of certainty, Reinwand’s defense strategy was to undercut the strength of the evidence against him.

Upon conclusion of the trial, jurors took less than two hours to convict Reinwand, and Wood County Circuit Judge Greg Potter delivered a life sentence without possibility of parole only days after the guilty verdict was announced.  Reinwand, who is 55, requested a sentence review after 20 years, but with the weight of evidence pointing to a premeditated and ruthless shooting, Judge Potter denied the request in favor of a life sentence without further consideration.

Evidence uncovered during the investigation of Reinwand suggests that he may have had a hand in the 1984 shooting death of his former wife.  Prosecutors representing the county Reinwand lived in at the time of the 1984 death have filed a charge of first-degree murder in that case, and, despite the life sentence, it is likely a second murder trial will take place unless he pleads guilty.