After a former Columbus police sergeant testified the knife that killed school Superintendent Jim Burns matched the sheath found in Kareem Lane’s pickup truck, jurors in Lane’s murder retrial heard Wednesday about the DNA evidence found on the dagger handle.
Neither evidence proved conclusive.
Former police Sgt. Jim Mays said he saw the dagger on the floor near Burns’ body in the superintendent’s 620 Broadway home on Oct. 19, 1992, and felt certain it matched the sheath police found in Lane’s truck when officers stopped it minutes later on Macon Road at Rigdon Road.
But under questioning by Lane’s attorney Stacey Jackson, Mays acknowledged such a weapon is not unique.
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The witness following Mays was forensic biologist Arthur Young of Guardian Forensic Sciences of Willow Grove, Penn. He testified evidence recovered from the dagger’s wooden handle yielded partial DNA profiles for Lane, Burns and a third, unknown individual. Statistically, the portions of DNA matching Lane also belong to one in every 50 white males, one in every 60 Hispanic men, and one in every 120 black men, Young said.
Jackson said those statistics mean it’s more likely a white man killed Burns than an African-American. Assistant District Attorney George Lipscomb, the trial’s lead prosecutor, said that in the context of the other evidence against Lane, the DNA results are incriminating.
Following Young’s testimony was that of Katherine Cross, his partner in founding Guardian Forensic Sciences. She testified the DNA evidence from the dagger excluded as contributors three others once speculated to be possible suspects in Burns’ slaying, including his then-wife Stella Burns, now Stella Burns Butler, who was in the bedroom with her husband when he was stabbed.
Mays was the first witness Wednesday, the third day of testimony in Lane’s retrial for the fatal stabbing of the controversial superintendent. As a sergeant supervising patrol officers in an area that included downtown, Mays went to Burns’ home upon hearing a “burglary in progress” call there, he said.
Others had secured the scene when he arrived, so he did not go inside, but from the porch he could see Burns lying on his back in a pool of blood, his body half in and half out of the front door, he said. Through the door, he saw the double-edged dagger on the floor nearby, he said.
About 15 minutes after Burns was stabbed, officers under Mays’ command stopped Lane’s gray Ford Ranger pickup, acting on information from Front Avenue residents who reported seeing a masked man run to a gray Ford Ranger by their home after Burns’ assault.
Mays, who described the knife at Burns’ home as a “boot dagger” the owner might clip and conceal on the inside of a boot, recounted his reaction upon seeing the black sheath officers found in Lane’s truck: “I said, ‘Well, that knife fits this sheath. That’s how they’re sold.”
He once owned a similar dagger, he said.
In court he later repeated this assertion for District Attorney Julia Slater, who had him compare the knife and sheath on the witness stand: “As far as the sheath goes, that’s a perfect fit,” he said.
Under Jackson’s questioning, Mays acknowledged he did not know the precise dimensions of the dagger and sheath, and could not say the two had been sold together. And because he’d bought one himself — having ordered it from a store in Tennessee — others also have bought such weapons, he admitted: “They can be had, yes sir,” he told Jackson.
Jackson also noted that though the Front Avenue witnesses reportedly said they were certain Lane’s truck was the one they saw downtown, police reports filed in 1992 said they thought only that the truck was “just like” the one they saw, not necessarily the same truck.
Still one of those witnesses, Chris Mauko, testified Tuesday that he was “100 percent” certain Lane’s truck was the one he’d seen a masked man jog to on Front Avenue. His mother called 911 to report seeing the runner leave in the truck, and told dispatchers the truck drove off six minutes earlier.
According to a transcript jurors saw, that call came in at 12:31 a.m., and Stella Burns’ frantic 911 call reporting her husband’s assault came in at 12:23 a.m.
Lane, then a 17-year-old Shaw High School student, was detained for hours after police stopped him that night, but later detectives released him without charge. He was allowed to take the truck with him, and it had been thoroughly cleaned when police went back for it, investigators said.
Lane was not charged with Burns’ fatal stabbing until cold-case investigators arrested him May 4, 2010, in Pell City, Ala., where Lane lived with his wife in a mobile home park and worked in a nearby auto parts plant. Police in 2010 reported DNA tests had matched Lane to the knife, but testimony in his 2012 trial revealed the broad statistical range of the results.
Stella Burns Butler testified Monday that she was sound asleep that night in 1992 when abruptly awakened as the bed shook violently. She saw her husband chase someone from the second-floor bedroom and heard him shout, “Get out of here, you son of a bitch!”
She reached the top of the stairs in time to see her husband standing at the open front door before he collapsed onto his back and bled to death from a stab wound to the back that had cut his aorta.
Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters has issued a gag order that prohibits attorneys and witnesses from discussing the evidence, but Jackson and prosecutors Wednesday could be overheard talking to Peters about possibly taking the jury to see where Burns lived and died at 620 Broadway.
Attorneys are expected to discuss that Thursday, when court resumes at 9 a.m.