STANARDSVILLE -- It looked a little like Christmas morning in Greene County Circuit Court on Tuesday. Wrapped packages of evidence littered tables and filled boxes before forensic scientists opened several of them to show to jurors.
DNA and forensic evidence was the topic of the majority of testimony on the sixth day in the triple-murder case against Taybronne Altereik White.
White, 28, is charged in the May 3, 2011, shooting deaths of Dustin Tyler Knighton, 25, Brian Robert Daniels, 26, and Lisa Hwang, 26. Their bodies were found in the wee hours of the morning on Octonia Road just north of Stanardsville.
Angie Rainey, a forensic scientist with the state department of forensic science who works in the central lab in Richmond, testified for nearly six hours about DNA evidence she found on items police submitted for testing, and how many matches to various people she found on those items.
Rainey said there are several ways people can leave DNA on items. One way is through body fluids, including blood, mucus and spit, while another way is through touch, or transferring skin cells to objects.
Rainey said she analyzes various gene types on 16 different location points on DNA to try to match the DNA of unknown people to DNA profiles police give.
Rainey said she compared DNA from items police gave her to known DNA profiles of White, Knighton, Daniels, Hwang, home invasion victims Willie Roy and Jermaine Frye, and two other men.
Prosecutors say White killed Knighton, Daniels and Hwang after mistakenly going to Roy and Frye’s house in an attempt to rob a different man. It wasn’t immediately clear how the two other men were related to the case.
Rainey and Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronald Morris spent hours reviewing details of items named in several different reports Rainey created at different times in 2011. In the reports, Rainey gave results of tests on items including a 9 mm pistol, a .22-caliber rifle, several articles of clothing and many swabs from different locations inside Hwang’s 2010 Honda Civic.
Later, defense attorney Edward Ungvarsky reviewed details of several of those items again, questioning Rainey on the items on which she said White’s DNA couldn’t be excluded as appearing on an item.
Rainey said she doesn’t match for identities of people, but rather decides, based on gene traits at the 16 locations, who can and cannot be eliminated as having left DNA on an item.
Rainey said that on many items, instead of finding DNA of one or even two people, the DNA of three or more people was present, creating what she called a “mixture.”
Rainey said she could not say conclusively how or when a person’s DNA was deposited on an item.
For example, Rainey said that after examining different parts of the 9 mm pistol, she found a DNA mixture on the gun. She said White, Knighton and Frye’s DNA could not be eliminated, but said there was also DNA from two others present on the gun.
Ungvarsky showed an email Rainey exchanged with one of her supervisors that stated that the DNA from the other two people on the pistol matched that of two lab staff members. The supervisor later advised Rainey over email to consider those people’s DNA a coincidence. Ungvarsky questioned whether Rainey should have considered the pistol to be contaminated.
After Rainey concluded her lengthy testimony, other witnesses testified on DNA and firearm forensic evidence. Morris called a supervisor and statistician at Rainey’s DNA lab, a state forensic scientist who studies gunshot residue and a state forensic scientist who studies firearms and tool marks from guns.
Douglas DeGaetano, the gunshot residue expert, said that Daniels, Knighton and Hwang all had residue on both their right and left hands.
Wendy Gibson, the firearms and tool marks expert, said most of the bullets the medical examiner gave her lab from the three bodies weren’t able to be conclusively matched to the 9 mm pistol or the .22-caliber rifle.
However, she said, she did conclusively find that two bullets taken from Hwang’s head wounds were fired from the rifle.
Others, including one taken from Daniels’ chest, seemed to be consistent with being fired from either the pistol or the rifle, she said, but she couldn’t say with total certainty that they had come from those guns because the bullets had been damaged.
Gibson said some of the cartridge cases taken from the Octonia Road crime scene were definitely shot out of the two guns. She said she couldn’t make conclusions about other items found, including bullets and bullet fragments, though she said many of them had tool marks similar to bullets test-fired from the two guns.
After hearing from the four scientists, Morris briefly questioned an acquaintance of Daniels.
After the jury had gone home but before court adjourned for the evening, Ungvarsky brought a motion to Judge Daniel Bouton to exclude evidence from phone numbers he said he knew Morris would try to bring into evidence today. The numbers are registered to several of White’s family members, and the numbers exchanged several long calls with one another between 4 and 5 a.m. May 3.
Ungvarsky argued there was no way to know who was speaking on the phone or what the conversations’ topics were, and said he didn’t believe the evidence was relevant.
Bouton ruled that the numbers’ records could not be admitted as evidence in the way Morris planned. He did say the phone records could be admitted as evidence if the foundation for their relevance changed.
The trial continues this morning.