Kareem Lane’s defense attorney suggested this morning that Columbus police misled a judge by overstating the results of forensic testing when seeking a warrant for Lane’s arrest on charges he fatally stabbed former Muscogee County School District Superintendent Jim Burns in 1992.
Attorney Stacey Jackson called to the witness stand a forensic serologist who told jurors it would be “incorrect” to claim the state’s DNA testing of the knife that killed Burns was at all conclusive.
Police charged Lane in the cold case in 2010, saying they had “matched” his DNA to a mixed profile extracted from the knife. A report prepared by the prosecution’s expert, however, found there were “too few alleles” in the mixture to be conclusive.
“If a detective went to a judge and said that, “Judge, we have a match and Mr. Lane’s DNA is definitely on that knife,’ would that statement be misleading?” Jackson asked his first witness, Thomas Fedor, who testified out of turn "for travel purposes" on the sixth day of Lane’s murder trial.
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“From my perspective it would,” answered Fedor, who works with the Serological Research Institute in Richmond, Calif. “Firstly, because it would seem that, unless this is a very special police officer, he would have not enough expertise to make that conclusion in respect of any particular DNA test.”
Jackson sought to cast doubt on the state’s forensic testing, which did not exclude his client from having handled the knife. He emphasized the presence of a “mystery” contributor to the sample, whom he referred to as “Mr. 9.3” after a particular allele found on the knife that could not have been left by Burns or Lane.
Fedor agreed with Jackson that the DNA results in this case are “not even in the same ballpark” as conclusive forensic testing.
“Not very much DNA was recovered, apparently, from this knife handle. We do not have a complete profile from the knife handle,” Fedor testified. “In a hypothetical case, where there is plenty of material to be recovered and tested, I think a good deal of uncertainty would be removed because we would know far more information about the source of the DNA.”
Jackson has been critical of the police investigation in Lane’s case, and mentioned several times that the state did not test two hairs found on the stairs in the Burns’ Broadway house. The state’s expert, Arthur W. Young, testified last week that the hair “woudn’t have any forensic value” because the context of the hair was unclear.
The hair could be "foreign or native" to the household and related or unrelated to the crime, Young said. But Fedor, who reviewed Young’s reports but did not conduct any of his own testing, said the hair could have been tested for mitochondrial DNA, which Young's lab did not perform.
District Attorney Julia Slater, on cross-examination, established that Jackson also never asked Fedor to conduct those tests.
The state is expected to continue its case against Lane this afternoon. Prosecutors had called 21 witnesses through Monday afternoon, or about half of the witnesses they plan to call.
Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters told jurors this morning that the proceedings will take a break on Thursday. The prosecution requested the delay so that Burns' family members may attend a funeral.
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