DNA links Smith to scene of 2000 killing

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2005

Ronald Smith was arrested in clothes stained with blood from one of the victims of the 2000 crime that left Kenneth Ike Thomas dead, a DNA expert testified before the prosecution rested its case Thursday in Smith's second murder trial.

Smith, now 39, is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree assault and first-degree robbery, charges he was found guilty of in late 2000, along with his co-defendant Rey Soto. Smith is getting a second trial because the Alaska Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2003, finding that testimony about the shotgun he allegedly used to threaten victims was improperly admitted.

Thomas, 36, died in Anchorage from brain injuries consistent with being hit with a baseball bat, Alaska Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Franc Fallico testified Thursday. Thomas and his brother, Alfred Torres, were taken to Bartlett Regional Hospital in the early hours of Jan. 25, 2000, after two men in ski masks came to the door of their Village Street trailer downtown.

Thursday, the woman at the state crime lab who tested items that police seized from Smith and Soto when they were stopped in the Mendenhall Valley the morning of the crime said two stains on a mug were a DNA match for Torres' blood.

Blood stains found on a pullover shirt Smith was wearing also were matched to Torres, Dr. Abirami Chidambaram testified.

She said the genetic markers she examines in biological materials from crime scenes provide a sort of "molecular fingerprint."

She said the chances of another person having the same DNA fingerprint begin in the quadrillions, exceeding the number of people who have ever lived on the planet - "unless someone has an identical twin or a clone."

Defense attorney Kirsten Swanson is scheduled to open her case this morning. During her opening statements, she questioned whether prosecution witnesses who were at the trailer were telling the truth.

Witnesses who testified earlier in the week said the men who came to the trailer were armed with a shotgun and a baseball bat and demanded money and marijuana. Torres said he answered the door. Thomas wasn't even in the room but rushed out from the back of the trailer to help him.

The witnesses included Soto, who is serving a 30-year sentence for the crime.

Although Soto testified that he struck Thomas with the baseball bat while Smith was wrestling with Torres over the shotgun, prosecutor Richard Svobobny has reminded jurors that the law deems all participants in a robbery responsible for a murder when one of the victims is killed.

Soto said Tuesday that Smith drove him away from the trailer with about $30 and six single-gram baggies of marijuana in a gray plastic mug.

Fallico said he performed the autopsy on Jan. 26, 2000, after Thomas died while on life support. The most serious injury came from "disruption to the brain." He explained that he determined Thomas died from "multiple blunt-force trauma, due to a beating."

Svobodny showed Fallico the bat seized from the car Smith was driving when police stopped him. Fallico said it could have been used to inflict the wounds that led to Thomas' death.

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