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DNA, forensic evidence weighed in Platero trial

POSTED: June 12, 2012 12:00 p.m.

DNA from three individuals was found on the trigger of the weapon used to kill Pfc. John Carrillo and Pfc. Gebrah Noonan and seriously wound Pfc. Jeffrey Shonk, according to Rachael Keenan, a biologist with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Keenan said no blood was found on the weapon belonging to Spc. Neftaly Platero, the soldier accused of shooting his roommates at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, on Sept. 23, 2010.

However, DNA evidence from three individuals was found on the trigger of the M4, which she was asked to test during the investigation.

During questioning by government attorney Maj. Stefan Wolfe, Keenan said Platero was identified as one of the “possible contributors,” but she was unable to match the other DNA found to any of seven samples provided to her lab in Fort Gillem in October 2010.

A second M4 examined by Keenan did not have any of Platero’s DNA, but it was found on one of two 30-round magazines tested.

Civilian attorney Guy Womack told Keenan that finding Platero’s DNA on the weapon or the magazine does not mean no one else touched the weapon or magazine. She agreed. He also pointed out there was no way to determine when or in what order DNA evidence got on the weapon or magazine. Again, she agreed.

Womack reminded her that she received only eight DNA samples, but that there were 180 U.S. soldiers assigned to Camp Fallujah at the time. He showed her a January 2011 report in which she noted the other two DNA profiles did not match any of the DNA samples provided. Then he asked her if the Army submitted additional samples.

“No, sir,” she said. “They remain unknown.”

He then asked her how long it would have taken her to test 180 DNA samples. She estimated six months. Noting that this was a capital case, Womack suggested it wasn’t too much to ask for the Army to have collected DNA samples from every U.S. soldier at the camp until a match was found to the other DNA profiles.

With the five-member jury out of the courtroom, Wolfe countered that it would have taken years to collect and examine that many samples. The defense was questioning the “thought process” of CID investigators, he said.

Wolfe said the only way the prosecution could respond to this line of defense was to call the senior CID investigator. But, he warned, the investigator might say his agents limited DNA samples because they had what they considered as a confession by Platero, a statement later suppressed by the court, the same statement that nearly led to a mistrial earlier in the week.

Womack objected, but with a proviso by military judge Lt. Col. Tiernan Dolan, the government would be allowed to question the witness as long as they carefully worded questions so as not to elicit Platero’s “excited utterance” made shortly after the shooting.

Before calling CWO Patrick Conner, special agent with the CID, the government first called a former soldier, Sam Bowen, who was the unit’s armorer.

Bowen testified that he checked Platero’s weapon before turning it over as evidence. This check required him to handle the gun and pull the trigger several times. He was never asked to submit a DNA sample, he said.

The prosecution asked that Conner be considered an expert in forensic analysis. The defense agreed. Wolfe then allowed Conner to explain how the “totality of evidence” led investigators to believe the DNA and other forensic evidence they had was sufficient.

“My goal was to put the crime scene back the way we found it,” Conner began, noting that he arrived after a fire in the room had been put out. “I didn’t make any assumptions. The first thing we did was make sure no critical evidence was destroyed.”
He said they videoed and photographed the room.

“There was a fair amount of blood,” Conner said, describing the room’s appearance when he first entered it and responding to Wolfe’s description of the room as being “awash with blood.”

“I wouldn’t say there was blood everywhere,” he said.

Conner said no blood was found on the north side of the room near Platero’s bed but that most of the shell casings were found on the north side of the room. Explaining that shell casings are ejected from the right side of the weapon, which indicated the gun had been fired from the north to northwest side of the room toward the south to southeast side of the room, he said.

After tracing the trajectory of 12 of the rounds, he concluded the “point of origin” of most of them was the north side of the room. Womack objected to a diagram of the room showing the trajectories. He pointed out that a bullet fired anywhere could have hit something that deflected it as much as 90 degrees.

His objection was overruled. The judge said the witness was not saying where the shooter was standing but the point of origin, depicting the bullets’ paths.

 

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