Photo by Brian Chilson
This morning's testimony in the capital murder trial of Curtis Vance centered on evidence measured in microns, as attorneys questioned employees of the Arkansas State Crime Lab about fluids and hairs found during the investigation into the murder of KATV anchorwoman Anne Pressly.
First on the stand was Lisa Channell, chief criminalist for the Crime Lab, who testified about hair evidence, and the efforts to isolate a DNA sample from items found at the crime scene and swabs collected during a rape examination of Pressly.
Channell said that though the swabs tested positive for a semen-specific antigen known as P-30, she was not able to find any sperm cells, and her testing was not able to connect the contents of the rape kit to a suspect. The swabs were later submitted for what is known as Y-STR testing, which detects the presence of only male DNA (an expert on Y-STR DNA is scheduled to testify this afternoon. According to Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson, that testimony will connect Vance to the contents of the Pressly rape kit).
Channell's testimony next turned to the issue of hairs and hair fragments collected from Pressly's bathrobe, pillowcase, and bed linens. When compared to hairs collected from Curtis Vance, Channell said, some of the hairs recovered at the scene were "microscopically similar" to Vance's hair, though -- under cross examination by Katherine Streett -- Channell did admit "we cannot say this hair came from this person to the exclusion of all others." During questioning by prosecutors, Channell later said that if she was allowed to take a sample of hair from everyone in the courtroom and microscopically examine it, she could determine whose head it came from.
Channell also testified about processing the evidence collected from the 1995 Chevrolet Monte Carlo owned by Curtis Vance at the time of the Pressly murder, including foam from seat cushions, the results of a floor vaccuuming and fabric swatches from the seats. Channell testified that she was not able to detect blood or semen on any of these items. Defense attorneys asked pointed questions about whether blood or semen could linger on such items, possibly suggesting another avenue they plan to take during their case. Namely, that Vance could not have committed so bloody a crime without leaving some trace evidence behind in his car. Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson countered by pointing out that the testing of the items taken from Vance's car was done almost two months after the murder. He also asked Channell whether soap and water could dilute a forensic sample to the point of it being undetectable -- Channell agreed it could -- and whether or not a car-wash vacuum would pick up the same evidence as those used by investigators. Channell said it would.
Next to the stand was Melissa Myhand, the Crime Lab's chief forensic DNA examiner. In addition to talking about the results of various "tape lifts" taken at the crime scene which revealed a mixture of DNA profiles, Myhand said that a single hair found on Pressly's bed -- a hair designated "E-4" in forensic reports -- was a match for the DNA profile of Curtis Vance, to a certainty of 1 in 1.5 quadrillion.
When the trial reconvened at 2:00 this afternoon, the jury heard testimony from Mary Robinette, a DNA expert with the Arkansas Crime Lab. Robinette testified that Y-STR DNA samples taken from Pressly's bed sheets and from materials in the rape kit taken by police were consistent with the DNA profile of Curtis Vance. Y-STR DNA targets male chromosomes in mixed samples.
Vance's attorney, Katherine Streett, said she thought Robinette's testimony was confusing. She then pursued a line of questioning trying to cast doubt on the Y-STR DNA results. Streett made the point that although the Y-STR DNA matched Vance's DNA profile, it did not positively identify Vance. The DNA, she argued and Robinette agreed, could have come from any male in Vance's lineage, ranging back for generations.
"Does any of your testing positively identify Curtis Vance," Streett asked. Robinette answered no. The prosecution quickly followed up by asking, "But is it consistent with his DNA profile?" Robinette answered, "Yes."
Robinette was on the stand for approximately 45 minutes. After her testimony, Judge Chris Piazza let the jurors go for the weekend. "We've all been through the ringer," Piazza said. He reminded jurors not to talk about the case or watch or read any news reports. He thanked them for their attentiveness and then adjourned.
The trial will continue Monday morning at 9:30.