DNA tests link victim, suspect

Crime lab worker testifies in murder trial

Posted: Friday, December 08, 2000

DNA analysis showed blood found on clothing worn by murder defendant Rey Soto matched the blood of the victim, Kenneth Thomas, a state crime lab employee testified Thursday in the trial of Soto and Ron Smith.

Abi Chidambaram said she was given "known blood" from Smith, Soto, Thomas and a second beating victim, Alfred Torres, who survived the Jan. 25 attack.

Through DNA analysis, she identified blood on the left leg of the jeans Soto was wearing when arrested as belonging to Thomas. She said she identified another stain as a mixture of Torres' and Soto's blood. She identified blood from a Louisville Slugger baseball bat - that prosecutors allege to be the murder weapon - as belonging to Torres.

Previous police testimony indicated the bat was found on the back floor of the defendants' car the morning they were arrested.

Chidambaram noted that DNA testing is a giant scientific leap forward from the actual fingerprint of a suspect, because this "very long string of beads" creates a portrait that is "close to unique."

Smith, 34, a personal trainer, and Soto, 21, an accounting student, are accused of second-degree murder in the beating death of Thomas, 36. The state alleges the beating occurred during a robbery and thus has charged the defendants with felony murder.

Dr. Franc Fallico, deputy medical examiner for the state, testified Thursday and again this morning to a long list of injuries suffered by Thomas. Chief among them was the blunt force injury to Thomas' head.

Fallico said he could not state "with medical certainty" what caused the wound but concluded it took "a large amount of force." However, in answer to questions from Assistant District Attorney Sue McLean, Fallico said that it was "consistent with being hit with a baseball bat; that is one possibility."

In addition to the depressed skull fracture, Fallico observed during his Jan. 26 autopsy that Thomas had two black eyes, abrasions (scratches) on both elbows, an abrasion on his thigh, a contusion (bruise) on the back of his right arm, a bruise on his upper chest, and swollen right knuckles.

McLean then called Officer Steve Christensen of the Juneau Police Department who testified Smith said both "I don't need this heat" and "I have nothing to hide" when he was asked if the car he was driving on Jan. 25 could be searched.

After calling more than 20 witnesses since Tuesday morning, the state rested its case at 9:30 a.m. today.

The defense then began to call witnesses, first recalling state witness Kyle Nolan, who said he was present between 4 and 4:30 a.m. Jan. 25 at the apartment of Zachary Brown when Smith asked to borrow Brown's shotgun. Darrel Gardner, attorney for Smith, and Michael O'Brien, attorney for Soto, challenged Nolan's credibility by citing a "crime of dishonesty" committed in the past five years.

Nolan, 21, admitted that he had shoplifted a pack of cigarettes in 1997.

The defense further tried to undermine Nolan's connection of Smith with a shotgun that may have been used in the beating of Thomas by calling Dave Shaw, who employed Nolan as a bag boy at Heritage Coffee, and with whom Nolan stayed most of the time. Shaw said he had had a phone call from someone who said he was Nolan claiming he had not been in the room when Smith requested the gun.

McLean then elicited testimony from Shaw that he has known Smith for four years and thinks of him as a friend.

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