Analyst raises questions about man’s murder conviction
ROLLA, Mo. (AP) — A blood-spatter analyst testified in a court hearing that a Missouri woman’s Christmas Day 2006 death was “clearly a suicide,” as defense attorneys try to win a new trial or freedom for the woman’s imprisoned husband.
Joseph Slemko, a 31-year police officer in Edmonton, Canada, testified Tuesday in Rolla that a Missouri State Highway Patrol sergeant who determined that Lisa Jennings had been murdered was “not qualified.” Slemko, who works as a blood-spatter consultant, also accused the sergeant of being “totally irresponsible and negligent,” reports the Springfield News-Leader .
Jennings’ husband, Brad Jennings, is eight years into a 25-year sentence for second-degree murder and armed criminal action. The defense sought the hearing, arguing in part that the robe Brad Jennings was wearing when his wife died tested negative for gunshot residue and that the results were withheld. The defense contends the findings would have helped prove the innocence of Jennings, who is now 61.
A coroner initially ruled Lisa Jennings’ death a suicide due in part from the fact that her right hand tested positive for gunshot residue and both of her husband’s hands tested negative. But the case was later re-investigated at the urging of Lisa Jennings’ sister, leading to the determination that blood spatters on Lisa Jennings’ hands were inconsistent with a suicide.
Slemko disagreed, pointing out that a blood-spatter pattern radiated out 180 degrees from the bedroom closet where Lisa Jennings was found dead. He said that if Brad Jennings, or anyone else, had been standing there, there would have been a “void,” or disruption of the blood pattern.
Slemko also disputed the patrol’s conclusion that the atomized mist of blood found on Brad Jennings’ bathrobe must have been the result of him firing the gunshot that killed his wife. It just as easily could have come from blood that was in the hair of Lisa Jennings, he testified.
The sergeant who investigated Lisa Jennings’ death attended a one-week course on blood-spatter analysis a year after he investigated the death of Lisa Jennings, according to a training certificate the patrol provided to the News-Leader in response to a Sunshine Law request.
“He absolutely is not qualified,” Slemko said. “In my opinion, he wasn’t even qualified after taking that basic course.”
Caroline Coulter, with the Missouri Attorney General’s office, is arguing the state’s case that Brad Jennings’s 2009 conviction should stand. While cross-examining Slemko, she asked if Nash’s years of experience as a criminal investigator were of value in evaluating the evidence.
Slemko said experience without training can be a dangerous thing when it comes to forensic science.
Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com