Fibers under the microscope
Clothes, Fabrics and the Fiber Evidence
Eighty-three items of clothing were seized during the search and arrests. The clothes included 46 shirts, 10 pairs of pants, 5 pairs of shoes, 5 pairs of underwear, 4 pairs of socks, and 3 shorts. Of the shirts, 29 are described as black, usually with a design. These designs included 16 heavy metal bands (15 from Baldwin's household and one from Misskelley's), 1 country music, 2 sports teams (Rangers and Bulls), and 2 with Harley Davidson. Nine non-clothing fabric items were seized.
The seizures appeared utterly random. One pair of pants was taken from the Misskelley residence, six from Baldwin's, and three from Echols'. A throw rug was seized from the closet in the Baldwin household, and a piece of carpet from the Echols', but no floor item came from Misskelley's trailer. Two blankets, one from the grandmother's bedroom, and a sheet were collected from Echols' house and a heating pad cover was taken from the Baldwin's place. The seizures included the parents clothes (four housecoats) and clothes from siblings (a child's Garanimals brand shirt played prominently in the trial). One reason for the differences in the selected items is that Lisa Sakevicius, the criminologist who would later test the fibers for similarities was present at some of the searches but not others. As she said in court:
Sakevicius: . . .none of this case has been common practice for me. This is the first time I ever participated in a search of Defendants' or victims' homes. [Echols/Baldwin trial abstract]Fibers Collected for Analysis
The victims bodies and their clothes were examined for anomalous fibers to identify the possible source of these among the clothes and fabrics entered into evidence. Fibers were collected from other evidence to try to connect such evidence to the victims' clothes. The specimens listed in the following section were deemed to have similarities to fibers from other evidence items by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory (ASCL) and the Alabama Department of Forensic Science (ADFS). Lisa Sakevicius of ASCL testified extensively at the trials and John Kilbourn of ADFS testified at the Echols/Baldwin trial.
Seven sets of fibers were found to have similarities to fibers from other evidence items. These are presented below. The letters are mine to avoid confusion among the query numbers which varied between laboratories. Evidence items E1, E2, E3, E5, and E9 refer to the children's clothes recovered from the crime scene. Five of the sets of fibers (A-E) were found on the victim's clothes.
A microscopic analysis was made between the collected fibers and other fibers from evidence. The ADFS report lists the items sent for comparison. These were:
Similarities were found between the above listed fibers and fibers from other evidence items. Reports were dated June 29, 1993 (ASCL) and January 5, 1994 (AFDS). The findings were:
The possibility of direct transfer of fibers from fabrics in the victims homes was not addressed in the initial reports. On December 20, 1993, two of the victims homes were visited and a total of six clothing items were taken as controls, three shirts and one pair of pants from the Moore's household and two shirts from the Byers household.
In a report dated January 17, 1994, the red cotton fibers from D and E were deemed similar to a shirt from the Moore's household.
Evaluating the Evidence.
The different fiber sets tell different stories. Fiber sets F and G were both derived from a knife entered into evidence on June 9, 1993. This knife was identified as a 3-4 inch boot knife being from Jason Crosby who received it from Rick Appling. Appling stated that Baldwin and Echols never had the knife and he was only acquainted with them in passing. The fibers found on the knife were said to be from two sources: a t-shirt from the Echols household and a toilet seat cover from Baldwin's home. This knife was not put forward as a murder weapon. To summarize: no relevance to the murder was put forward.
In contrast the source of the red cotton fibers from D and E were significant: the clothes of the deceased. Unfortunately these fibers were promiscuous in their declared similarities, with possible sources including a pullover shirt from the Echols household, fibers from the bag of clothes found at the crime scene, and a red shirt taken from the Michael Moore household
The green polyester fibers from the cub scout cap and the blue pants (A) and the green cotton fibers (B) were all found similar to fibers from a Muscle Beach t-shirt from the Echols household (E79). In the Arkansas documents this was referred to as a blue shirt. In the samples sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences it was described as blue-green. During the trial, the source, E79, was described as a size six Garanimals shirt, belonging to Echols stepbrother. To further complicate matters, the cotton fibers were described as two and from E9 (the shirt with the surfboard design) in the Alabama report and as one from E3 (the shirt with the checkered design) in the Arkansas report.
The red rayon fiber (C) recovered from the victim's checkered shirt was the most heavily debated at trial. It was found to be similar to fibers from E99, the red housecoat seized from the Baldwin trailer, a robe worn by Jason's mother. After Lisa Sakevicius presented her findings for the prosecution's case, the defense brought in an expert, Charles Linch, who said the red rayon fiber was not similar. The prosecution rebutted with John Kilbourn of the Arkansas Department of Forensic Sciences who concurred with Sakevicius' opinion. In an odd twist, the defense expert, Charles Linch was found to have been on leave from a mental asylum.
All of the fibers from the defendants' homes were suggested to have been deposited by secondary transfer. For example, the clothes Damien wore at the time of the murder had picked up both cotton and polyester fibers from the a Muscle Beach t-shirt (or Garanimals shirt) in his home and then these fibers were transferred to several of the items of clothing of the victims during the crime.
As with much of the evidence in this case, the fiber analyses suffer from inconsistency. The selection of clothing and fabrics during the searches was haphazard. Then even though 92 fabric and clothing items were taken, comparisons were made to only 55 to 57 of these (two slides are ambiguous as to whether they refer to additional items). The attempt to find controls from the victims homes to test for primary transfer was anemic. Even though only six clothing items were taken from two of the victims homes, these managed to have similarities to two of the seven sets of fibers. The items taken from the victims home included 4 red garments and two black garments, but no blue or green garments to check for a source of the fibers in A, B or G.
Below is an extended diagram of the fiber analyses: the comparisons and the findings.
Recommended reading, "Fiber Evidence" from Hair, Fibers, Crime and Evidence. Douglas Deedrick, FBI. In Forensic Science Communications, 2:(3)
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