Monday, April 25, 2011

Forensic Testimony

Michael has been begging me to track down Theresa Voelker, the woman from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation who testified at his trial. She ran the tests on the jeans, etc. Because the evidence has, allegedly, been destroyed and because I'm not convinced that failing to tie him to the biological evidence would be deemed exculpatory, this wasn't a high priority. But, it did bother me that she seemed to have disappeared.

The PI had found one person with her name, in the right age range, in the entire US. She lives, ironically, in Saint Paul, where I used to live. I found an email for her husband and was able to confirm that she is not, in fact, the right woman. But, that got me thinking, "Is she dead? If not, where is she?" I assumed that she had a new name.

Then, I checked Lo' and behold I found a divorce record that had to be the right person. The middle initial, age, town, etc. were perfect! Then, I found her ex-husband, still living and working in the same town. I found him on facebook and found his work email address. I heard back from him right away. He told me that she was remarried and now lived in Mississippi. He told me about an old friend of hers that he thought would have contact info. I was able to get the friend's email address from his work's website. And, he wrote back right away! He told me that he was forwarding my email to her. I really didn't think I'd hear from her. I mean, here I was writing about a case from over 30 years ago! But, she very graciously wrote back.I knew that this wouldn't crack the case. But, I'm so glad to be able to tell Michael that we've exhausted this avenue, that we did find her.

Here's part of what she had to say, my underlining and notes:

"I am sorry to say that I do not remember the case, but you can understand it would be difficult as I worked thousands of cases in my 24 year career

I must say I was very surprised that the court destroyed the evidence just two years after the trial.  I don't remember if that was the norm back then, but when I worked for the [other state] Police Crime Lab in [other state], we kept samples of the evidence for years. [Note: It was destroyed 13 months after trial.]

As far as the jeans, how did the police ascertain that these were worn by Michael at the time of the crime?  There weren't any other items of clothing submitted such as shirt or shoes. Why weren't these impounded? [Note: The co-defendant testified that these were the jeans Michael was wearing. I guess he threw everything else out and kept bloody jeans.]

As to your question about wouldn't more blood be on someone's clothing if they stabbed someone that many times:  It is certainly reasonable to think that, but if the first wound or two felled the victim and he was lying there motionless, it would be possible to continue to stab him without a lot of blood being transferred.  If they were struggling, however, then the likelihood of more transfer would increase.

The fingernail scrapings: My notes said "some contain blood, but the quantity was not sufficient for species or type. Also, it looks like "some hair." I don't remember if any hair comparisons were made; the notes do not show that. Also, no hair standard from the victim was submitted for elimination purposes. On the two submission sheets of the hair samples from both defendants, there are notes written at the bottom; that is not my writing.  I believe my lab supervisor at that time, [omitted], did the hair exams as I wasn't yet trained to do that. He may have written a report to the Toledo PD on those findings. If a copy of my report that I wrote to the Toledo PD could be obtained, it might contain more information than in my notes. 

It is possible that hair from the fingernails could have been kept in the lab, but I highly doubt if they would still be there after all these years.  More than likely they were left in the bag with the nail scrapings and that was destroyed.  And if the known hair samples from the defendants were also destroyed, there wouldn't be anything to compare the unknown hairs to anyway.  Their hair today would most certainly show different characteristics than when they were teenagers.

I don't remember testing any knives.  If they had been submitted, there would have been a submission sheet for them. 

Also, I found it strange that a blood standard from the victim didn't appear to have been submitted.  Type B  blood was found on several items I assume were from the scene, and was probably the victim's blood; it was not the same type as either of the defendants. Even if it was the blood from another suspect, back in 1977 we did not have the capabilities of breaking the blood down into other types as we do today.

I'm afraid none of this really helps at this point, but the forensic evidence in itself didn't seem to be enough for a conviction. The jury must have thought the detective's testimony held a lot of weight, as well as any other testimony of which I wouldn't have any knowledge."

As for the possibility that some of her slides are tucked away in a drawer somewhere. Well, as noted elsewhere, I'm not convinced that proving that Michael's DNA appears on nothing taken from the crime scene would be viewed as exculpatory. It's not the same as saying that he's excluded as a result of the DNA testing of a semen stain. But, additionally, the lab in which she did the work, in 1977, moved to a new building in another town in 1996. The odds that boxes of old slides, etc. were moved, nineteen years after the fact seem slim to none. And, given the issue with the potential for any DNA testing to be viewed as exculpatory, this road is closed.  So, there you have it. But, there is some peace in knowing that there isn't a rock unturned that is hiding the treasure beneath it.

This is a non-DNA case, to be sure. And, to those of you who know anything about those, this means we're pushing a very big boulder up a very steep hill.

Note: There's nothing to be gained by revealing "Ms. Voelker's" current name so I have not done so here.

1 comment:

  1. Bless you, Melissa, for your amazing diligence in Michael's case. This is what the general public does not understand: Every case that has resulted in exoneration, reversal, or new trial requires your kind of persistence. That is just one reason we know that the exonerated represent the tip of the iceberg of wrongful convictions. My husband is also working on a non-DNA case. We will see more of these as we run out of DNA evidence to test in old cases. But the DNA cases have enlightened everyone to the red flags of a wrongful conviction. DNA worked against non-DNA post conviction cases in the recent past, but I think the lessons learned from DNA will open more and more minds to the possibility of error in non-DNA cases as we progress. Thank you for your important work.