STANARDSVILLE — DNA evidence has gone missing in the triple-homicide case against a 28-year-old Charlottesville man.
Testimony on Friday in the fourth day of the trial against Taybronne Altereik White revealed that DNA swabs used to rule out two men as suspects in the May 2011 slaying of three people in Greene County have disappeared from the bins of evidence.
After being questioned on the stand by defense attorney Edward Ungvarsky, lead investigator Greene County Sheriff’s Sgt. Rodney Snead testified that he discovered in November 2012 that two pieces of DNA evidence were no longer to be found in the homicide case surrounding the deaths of Dustin Tyler Knighton, 28, Brian Robert Daniels, 26, and Lisa Hwang, 26.
Ungvarsky said White’s defense team only learned two weeks before the start of the trial that the buccal swabs were no longer available in the case that already has been tainted by the embezzlement conviction of James Shifflett, a former Greene County employee who handled many pieces of evidence in the White case.
“I’m sure we weren’t told it was lost forever,” Ungvarsky said of just finding out about that evidence, which reportedly ruled out Jermaine Frye and Willie Roy as suspects in the three homicides. Ungvarsky said he and fellow defense attorney Michael Hemenway would have filed for a motion to dismiss the case if they had known that earlier. “I know we would have done that,” he said.
Frye and Roy were the apparent victims of a botched robbery that happened in a house on Ford Avenue in the early-morning hours of May 3, 2011, just moments before Knighton, Daniels and Hwang were found dead on Octonia Road north of Stanardsville.
Snead that said the two men’s DNA — along with many other pieces of evidence such as clothing, other DNA and bullet fragments — were taken to a crime lab in Richmond for analysis and then returned to Greene County. Frye and Roy’s DNA swab had been taken after White turned himself in just days after the killings.
Several pieces of evidence, including a bloody T-shirt, were packaged by Shifflett, who was an evidence technician. Earlier this year, Shifflett was found guilty of embezzling more than $19,000 in cash from approximately 30 cases between 2008 and 2011. Shifflett was fired at the end of 2011 after Steve Smith took office as sheriff. It wasn’t until early 2012 that it was discovered that money had gone missing from several cases, including White’s.
Shifflett, who had testified on Thursday about the cash thefts, returned to the stand Friday to say money was the only thing he had taken. “Have you ever stolen anything other items from the evidence room,” Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Ronald Morris asked him. “No, sir,” Shifflett replied.
Much of Friday’s testimony, which included statements from Albemarle Police Department forensic technician Carol Sue Townsend and evidence unit supervisor Carol Graziano, included the step-by-step process of photographing, gathering and detailing evidence from Hwang’s Honda Civic, which had been found abandoned later the morning of May 3, 2011, on Old Brook Road in that county.
Townsend noted that $259 had been found in the center console of the car next to Knighton’s ID and $593 was recovered from Hwang’s purse. Ungvarsky said that the money, which Shifflett on Thursday admitted taking from a secure evidence locker at All American Storage in Stanardsville, could have been tested for fingerprints or DNA.
“Each of those bills could have been tested for DNA, correct?” he asked Townsend, who replied, “Possibly.”
In describing her role as the Albemarle Police’s evidence unit supervisor, Graziano told Morris “my most important job is to uphold the integrity of the evidence that comes into our unit.”
The trial resumes Monday morning in Greene County Circuit Court.