The Victims The Place Time It Was The Crime The Investigation The Convicted
The Victims The Place Time it was The Investigation The Crime The Convicted

Describing hair from Moore ligature

Sequence data from a hair from Moore's ligature.

A Twilight Kill, Part Eleven: DNA

    DNA encodes our traits; we are distinct individuals because of the makeup of our DNA. In turn, our DNA can be used to identify us. Present in tissues and secretions often found at crime scenes including blood, semen and hair, it can be the ideal forensic tool, the ultimate arbiter of innocence or guilt.

    In this case, critical biological samples were taken from the victims, from suspects and from the collected evidence. The state and the appeals attorneys agreed to examine: fingernail scrapings from the victims; tissue samples from the ligatures; swabs from each victim; cuttings from their clothes; loose hairs recovered from the victims including hairs found in the ligatures; 
hairs found on the victims clothing, the morgue sheets and at the crime scene; and, several miscellaneous items. 

    Biological specimens were also obtained during the investigation from 44 other suspects and family members for matches or exclusion. These samples could also be examined in future tests.

DNA Results

    In the DNA Status Report filed with the appeals, none of the DNA sequenced matched any of those in prison for the crime. Almost all of the DNA from the crime scene matched the victims. Hairs that previously had been found "microscopically similar" to those of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin did not come from them. The report went on to say, "Although most of the genetic material recovered from the scene was attributable to the victims of the offenses, some of it cannot be attributed to either the victims or the defendants." [DNA Status Report, July 17, 2007]

    Partial results found nuclear DNA belonging to neither the victims nor the convicted on the penile swabs from Stevie Branch and Michael Moore suggestive of criminal contact. Hair shafts only contain mitochondrial DNA. The convicted were excluded as the source of any of the hairs. The following six hairs each had different individual profiles, not matching the victims or those in prison:
    The hair from Michael Moore ligature had a single nucleotide change from the mitochondrial DNA of a sample gathered from the home of Terry Hobbs - the stepfather of the victim, Stevie Branch. With a single nucleotide difference, he can not be excluded as a possible source. Stevie Branch's mother, Pamela Hobbs, says she believes her ex-husband may have committed the crime and has come out in favor of a retrial.

    Some material failed to amplify, including those from the Kershaw knife and a hair from Michael Moore's pants.

    The exclusion of the convicted as sources of the material gathered from the crime scene is powerful evidence of their innocence. Someone else left DNA on the penises of Michael Moore and Stevie Branch indicative of a sexual crime. Notably, Chris Byers had his genitals mutilated and could not be thus tested. The hairs from the ligatures of Moore and Byers may well point to the killer.

The Power - and Impotency of DNA Fingerprinting

    Through methods that can match even small amounts of genetic material to the person who deposited it, DNA has become a torchlight illuminating the deficiencies of our judicial process. Convictions based on eyewitness identification, hair "matching," jailhouse snitches, even confessions to police have been found lacking.

    In the first application of DNA fingerprinting, the police had the confession of 17-year old Raymond Buckley for murder and rape. Suspecting the same perpetrator was guilty in a second case, they tested his DNA versus semen gathered from the two cases. The police were half-right: the cases were the same perpetrator, but not Buckley. Eventually they matched the DNA to the true killer.

    Even when DNA excludes a convict the judicial process often turns a blind eye. Clarence Elkins was convicted of the rape and murder of his mother-in-law. After years in prison, the DNA from the semen left in the victim was shown to be someone else's. An evidentiary hearing was called. Elkins was denied a new trial. Returning to prison, he encountered a fellow inmate who was a rapist and a neighbor of the victim. He pocketed some discarded cigarette butts from the man and sent them to his family so they could get a DNA fingerprint from the saliva secretions. The DNA matched, as did a more properly obtained sample.

    A ridiculous standard was set for Elkins - he had to find the killer himself while in prison. The judicial process is negligent in admitting its mistakes. They would have to admit complicity in half-baked verdicts that relied on prejudices and strained evidence. Although there are seldom financial judgments in favor of those proven wrongfully convicted, a fear of lawsuits can drive self-interest over that of justice. Besides, for the authorities involved, it is not their own lives they are throwing away.

    Horrific crimes arouse fears and prejudices we normally lock away in a deep vault of our minds. Unleashed, reason is banished. In this case, there was not a piece of evidence that wasn't compromised or stretched beyond reason. The tainted and contrived evidence, the lies and last minute revelations, the compromised and flawed witnesses were not coincidental. The state was trying to make a case that just didn't fit the suspects. DNA, science and reason do not point toward the convicted. DNA evidence is impotent in the face of willful ignorance.
A single suspect with these three bands would make a likely candidate to be the killer. 

Continued in A Twilight Kill, Part Twelve: Whodunnit.

Copyright © 2009 Martin David Hill
Site Design By Michael Gillen