Evidence Journey for JonBenet

Once again from Andy Horita, Boulder DA Investigator, comes another excerpt in his DNA Bode Evidence documentation from December 2007. Last time I wrote about his Investigative Memo as noted in the Ramsey Case File with a description of evidence items. Now Andy is heading to Virginia with a suitcase full of precious evidence. His narrative is smooth and precise and I like his writing. He is matter of fact, Joe Friday kind of guy. And this is long but all of it is an interesting glimpse into the JonBenet Ramsey Death Investigation. I would have loved attending this Forensic Science Analysis and Discussion personally.  It is a rare glimpse into the JonBenet Ramsey Death Investigation. But it is also like a basic science report/field trip.

I can’t help but think perhaps Mary Lacy planned on the CORAFiles being released to the public eventually. It only makes sense in light of the criticism she has received.

These are Andy’s observations…

Overview

On 11/30/07, at approximately 1042 hours, Tom Bennett sent, via fax, the 2-page Bode Technology Case Submission form, along with a 6-page case overview. The case submission form listed the following items to be submitted for testing: Ligature from neck. BPD #22TET, CBI # 008, Broken paintbrush handle (attached to #1 above),  Ligature from right wrist. BPD #018TET, CBI #166, Black duct tape. BPD # 010 KKY, CBI #15),  White long underwear bottoms. BPD #020, CBI #6

Although the 6-page case overview was prepared entirely by Bennett, he listed my name as the author (see page 6), because I was to be the investigator accompanying the evidence to the lab and providing the case overview presentation. I noted, after the fax had been sent, that the sentence on page 3, which states, “The Boulder DA Office has not been provided the sequence of the STR analysis of DNA obtained from the Ramsey family members” was not accurate. I discovered the known profiles for the Ramsey family members within the materials prepared by the Boulder Police Department, and delivered in electronic format, upon an earlier request by the elected District Attorney, Mary Lacy (then Keenan) several years prior.

Also, in the 6-page case overview that was prepared by Bennett (see page 3), was a reference to “Colorado Bureau of Investigation Specimen number GSLDPD99178617,” however it should be noted that the Denver Police Department’s Crime Laboratory completed the analysis of the sample in question and developed the STR profile that was uploaded to the CODIS database. Also, the specific profile that was developed by the DPD crime lab, and uploaded to CODIS, was not the distal stain from CBI item number 7-2.

Bennett’s case summary also notes that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s lab declined to conduct DNA analysis of the garrote “due to the high probability of a DNA mixture being present on the garrote as a result of all persons who have handled the item from the point of manufacture to present.” It should also be noted that in the course of preparing the case overview presentation for the Bode forensic scientists, I noticed that the forensic knot expert from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Corporal Van Tassel, appeared to not be wearing protective gloves in photos depicting his analysis and reconstruction of the knots. Also, the paintbrush piece that was used to construct the knot was depicted in the photographs of the un-gloved knot expert.

Additionally, on page 6 of Bennett’s summary, he states that the long underwear bottoms worn by the victim had not been examined for DNA. My review of the case data indicates that cuttings were taken from the elastic waistband of the long johns by the CBI and tested for the presence of foreign DNA. The serology portion was completed by CBI agent Joe Clayton on 1/9/97. The DNA testing was completed on 5/27/99, but an interpretable profile was not developed using DQAI/PM kits.

The case summary mentions a rope that was found “on a bag on a chair” in the guest bedroom of the Ramsey home. This item may or may not have been found on a chair from the guest bedroom. The notations in the Boulder PD case file are not clear and the single photograph of the area prior to the search does not provide sufficient detail to identify the presence or absence of a bag.

To-Go Evidence

On 11/30/07, I received an email message from Tom Bennett advising me that the case submission form had been received by Bode, and that the evidence items will be ready for pickup at the Boulder Police Department’s Property and Evidence Section.

Also, on 11/30/07, I received a photocopy of Colorado Revised Statute section 24-72-305.5, which refers to “Access to records-denial by custodian – use of records to obtain information for solicitation.” Bennett advised me that the statute should be discussed with representatives from Bode and a signed statement should be obtained regarding the potential use of the documents  we were providing to them and the limitations created by the statute.

On 11/30/07, at approximately 1526 hours, I spoke with Boulder Police Department Property and Evidence Technician Lucy Batton and learned that the requested evidence items were ready to be picked up. At approximately 1545 hours, I arrived at the BPD Property and Evidence section to retrieve the requested evidence items. At approximately 1549 hours, I took possession of the following items: 022TET – Neck Ligature, 018TET – Wrist Ligature, 010KKY – Black Duct Tape, 020TET – White Long Underwear Bottoms, 021TET – Wednesday Panties

The items were transferred to a clean, dry, rolling suitcase. The items remained in their original sealed packaging and were not exposed to extreme temperatures, excessive moisture, or radiation. A zip tie was used to secure the zippers on the suitcase.  The zip-tied suitcase remained in my control continuously until the evidence items were delivered to Bode Technology.

On 12/2/07, I arrived at the Frontier Airlines ticket Counter at the Denver International Airport and presented my credentials to Frontier Aviation Security Coordinator Melissa Lucken and Transportation Security Administration Supervisor Victor Androvich. I explained to them that I was in possession of items of evidence in a sealed rolling suitcase and would prefer that the seal not be broken during the trip. Androvich advised me that the contents of the suitcase would have to be searched in some way, and I agreed to allow it to go through the normal carry-on screening, rather than breaking the chain of custody and potentially contaminating the evidence.

Bode Technology Labs

On 12/3/07, at approximately 0900 hours, Maguire and I arrived at the Bode Technology reception desk (10430 Furnace Road, Suite 107, Lorton, Virginia). We were provided with a security form, issued visitor credentials, and submitted two reference DNA samples (using a sterile cotton swab and a proprietary Bode collection kit).

At the entrance, we were met by Casework Supervisor Angela Williamson, who escorted us to the second-floor conference room where the meeting was to take place. We then met Casework Analyst Amy Jeanguenat, and briefly spoke with Maureen Loftus (then president of the company). During the conversation with Loftus, we were assured that media contacts would be referred back to our office until such time as other arrangements were made. In the meantime, Bode would 11say nothing” either confirming or denying that their lab had received evidence associated with the Ramsey investigation. I provided Loftus with the form letter outlining the statutory provisions of24.72.305.5, C.R.S., limiting the use of criminal justice records for soliciting business for pecuniary gain. Loftus and I signed the form and Loftus excused herself from the meeting.

During the initial phase of the meeting, Williamson and Jeanguenat briefly described the history of Bode Technology and noted the work that the company did to identify the remains of the victims of the 9/11/01 attacks.

PowerPoint Presentation

Over the approximately three hours from 0900 hours to 1200 hours, I presented Williamson and Jeanguenat with a PowerPoint presentation summarizing the facts and controversies surrounding the Ramsey case. A video clip was used to illustrate the geographical location of the Ramsey home and the surrounding Boulder landmarks. Next, a video clip was shown from a Court TV documentary that aired in July of 2006. Photographs and brief biographical information regarding the four individuals who were known to be in the Ramsey home on the night of the murder were shown. A brief mention was made of some of the extended family members, as well.

An overview of the crime scene was provided, including the approximate square footage of the levels of the home and photographs of the scene taken by the Boulder Police Department shortly after the scene was secured. It was noted that the photographs address one of the controversies regarding the absence of “footprints in the snow.” The next series of slides depicted floor plan diagrams with hyperlinked photographs depicting the different areas of the crime scene. A brief discussion of the ransom note and the forensic analysis completed on it was next. The three pages of the ransom note were displayed.

In-Depth Evidence Discussions Gone from Narrative

A second video clip from the Court TV documentary discussed the ransom note further. A 3-D computer animation of the floor plan was included in the clip. The autopsy report was discussed next, including the official cause of death statement. Four photographs from the autopsy were included, along with a photograph from the CBI showing the Wednesday underwear and the cutting that was removed from it.

A third video clip from the Court TV documentary was played. The clip included a discussion of the autopsy report, the garrote, skull fracture, Dr. Werner Spitz’s interpretation as a patterned injury, the flashlight recovered from the Ramsey home, the broken paintbrush handle, the stun gun hypothesis, Dr. Michael Doberson’s opinions, a discussion of the basement window, the black duct tape, and the fact that no ropes or cords we’re found in the home that matched the ones used to construct the garrote or wrist ligatures.

A discussion and analysis of the types of knots used was next. The presentation included video clips produced by Corporal John Van Tassel from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and still images that I took of myself illustrating the step-by-step construction of the knots using a much larger diameter rope. Following the discussion and illustration of the knot construction, photographs depicting Corporal John Van Tassel’s knot analysis appeared to show an un-gloved hand and bare arms in the photographs. We briefly discussed cross-contamination issues.

DNA

A general summary of the DNA testing was next. It should be noted that although the slide summarizing the Denver Police Department’s DNA results and possible interpretation issues raised by the mixture profile referred to the “distal portion of stain 2” (slide 45), the actual profile that was developed by Denver PD’s lab did not rely on the distal stain. Rather, the profile was developed from the 7-2 stain. Therefore, the word “distal” was erroneously included in the presentation and a note of this error was made during the presentation.

Following the PowerPoint presentation, I presented Williamson and Jeanguenat with a chart summarizing: the mixture profile data developed by Gregg LaBerge at the Denver Police Department crime lab, the victim’s known profile, and the interpreted suspect’s contribution to the mixture (per the uploaded CODIS forensic unknown profile). The two analysts briefly examined the chart and made markings on the interpreted suspect’s contribution to the profile as they discussed whether they agreed with or had questions about the interpretations that were made.

Generally speaking, Williamson and Jeanguenat stated that they would not feel comfortable reporting that an individual was a major or minor contributor to a mixture when the ratio of the two suspected profiles was less than 3:1. It would be possible to “condition out” the victim’s contribution to a profile if the circumstances justified it.

When asked, Jeanguenat stated that she saw no indication that a third party contributed to the mixture and would “testify in court” to that effect. They noted that the imbalance at the amylogenic locus was “not surprising.” Further, it was their opinion, based on a cursory look at the chart, that the 29-allele call was “iffy.” It was their suggestion that the profile be searched at that locus with (31.2, “‘). Similarly, the analysts indicated a question regarding the 12 allele call at the D5S818 locus. When asked about the apparent lack of concordance at D7S820, Williamson and Jeanguenat both stated that the result was not surprising based on their experience and training. Despite their questions regarding the two allele calls, Williamson noted that the interpretation might have either left off those alleles or that they “might be right anyway.”

STR Testing Kits Methodology

They noted that a relatively new testing kit called Identifiler, made by Applied Biosystems, could be used in lieu of the same company’s two kits (Profiler Plus or COfiler kits). The benefits of using the Identifiler kit include the fact that all 13 core CODIS loci can be amplified using a single kit and a smaller amount of input sample is necessary. Williamson stated that approximately 80% of Bode’s casework is done using the Identifiler kit. One difference with the Identifiler kit is that it amplifies two additional STR loci, namely D2S1338 and D19S433. Similarly, a newer testing kit, also made by Applied Biosystems, called MiniFiler, was designed to amplify the larger STR loci, thus improving the chances of developing a profile from degraded DNA samples. While the Identifiler kit has been used in court and Jeanguenat has testified regarding its use, the MiniFiler kit has not yet undergone trial Court scrutiny.

Flashlight

Williamson mentioned that the flashlight recovered from the Ramsey home could be swabbed for the presence of “touch DNA,” and that the presence of fingerprint powder would not inhibit the amplification.  She noted that she has had success using the “touch DNA” method to recover the male offender’s DNA profile from a swab of the female victim’s pubic hair shaft in a sexual assault case. She described the “touch DNA” collection procedure as: stretching the fabric substrate to be tested, using a sterile scalpel blade to scrape the surface material, and collecting the fiber for analysis. Williamson noted that she has had a roughly 80% success rate with the technique when used on the exterior surface of victim’s clothing, and has used the technique to develop a profile of a “serial groper” in Queensland, Australia (where Williamson previously worked as a forensic scientist)

Serological Testing

The analysts discussed the different serological tests that could be used to test for different biological material and noted that fluid sources were generally more DNA-rich than non-fluid sources. Williamson asked about the specific test that was used by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to screen for the presence of amylase, a protein commonly found in saliva. The testing method used would determine the best course of action with respect to subsequent “touch DNA” testing. In one method, an adhesive screen is placed over the substrate. If such a method were used, touch DNA testing would not have a high likelihood of success.

Calling Colorado Bureau of Investigation Laboratory

On 12/3/07, at approximately 1339 hours, I reached the Colorado Bureau of Investigation Laboratory Agent in Charge, Ron Arndt, and spoke with him via speakerphone. Arndt stated that the CBI lab was in the process of evaluating the use of either the Identifiler kit, or a similar kit made by a different manufacturer, Promega Corporation’s PowerPlex 16 kit. At that point, Arndt had not determined which kit is “better.” I asked Arndt to describe the serological testing methods in place at his lab around 1997. He stated that cuttings would have been taken of clothing that tested presumptively positive for saliva, semen, or other fluids. When asked, he stated that his lab would not have used the Phadebas test kit, which would have obliterated any touch DNA.

Laboratory Work

At approximately 1315 hours on 12/3/07, the evidence-containing rolling suitcase was opened by cutting through the zip tie securing the zipper pulls. The following items were then turned over to the Bode Technology evidence technician: Neck Ligature, Paintbrush handle, Wrist Ligature, White Long Underwear Bottoms, Wednesday Panties.

Note that although BPD evidence item 010KKY, the black duct tape, was transported to the Bode Technology laboratory along with the other evidence items listed above, it was determined that it was not as suitable for DNA testing as the other items. Therefore, item 010KKY was returned to the zip-tied rolling suitcase, maintained within my custody and control, and ultimately returned to the Boulder Police Department’s Evidence section.

Serology Room

Next, Williamson went into the forensic serology room within the Bode Technology lab. After donning a clean lab coat, hair net, gloves, mask, eye protection, and undergoing footwear decontamination, Maguire and I followed Williamson into the small, secure room. Maguire and I observed from an approximate distance of three feet from the evidence items as Williamson removed item 021TET from the sealed, intact packaging. She noted that the cutting from that item was not contained within the packaging. Next, Williamson examined the evidence items packaged together as 022TET. It was noted that the brush end of the paintbrush was not packaged with the neck ligature and paintbrush handle (middle section). The items were then re­ sealed, and Williamson, Jeanguenat, Maguire and I returned to the conference room to discuss a plan of action.

Williamson stated that the cutting from item 010KKY should be located and sent to the Bode laboratory via FedEx shipping. Re-testing the underwear would be the first priority. She decided to test the long underwear bottoms for possible touch DNA as the second priority. A third priority would be to test the brush end of the paintbrush (which was not included among the items I provided to Bode).

At approximately 1700 hours, Maguire and I left the Bode Technology facility and returned to our hotel.

CORAFiles Index

Investigative Memo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *