Complex DNA evidence presented in Harris murder trial

Analyst spends hours answering defense lawyers' questions, some more confusing than enlightening

September 27, 2010|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

Enduring a barrage of highly detailed scientific testimony, jurors in the Kenneth N. Harris murder trial appeared to have difficulty staying awake Monday during a long cross-examination of a DNA analyst.

Lawyers defending three men charged in the former Baltimore councilman's killing two years ago directed a stream of questions at the state's witness, Kelly Miller, a DNA analyst with the Police Department's crime lab, who had testified that evidence at the crime scene came into contact with the defendants.

Some of the jurors in Baltimore Circuit Court appeared to wither as the day wore on, heads nodding, eyes half-closed. Even the judge, David Ross, who is taking a break from retirement to oversee the trial, allowed himself to rest his eyes on occasion, if only briefly.

The lawyers seized every chance they could to undermine Miller's testimony, including asking her on at least three occasions why the crime lab's director, Edgar Koch, had been fired in August 2008. The reason given at the time was that some crime analysts had contaminated evidence with their own DNA.

Miller, a microbiologist, remained unflappable, even when forced to repeat herself time and again. Referring to a piece of evidence on which a DNA match had been made, she said its profile was "unique to Jerome Williams," the youngest of the three defendants. That precise profile would be repeated only if Williams had an identical twin, she said.

Another piece of evidence — part of a latex glove — bore trace evidence from another defendant, Charles McGaney, although his lawyer, Jason E. Silverstein, made much of the fact that the DNA of an unknown man was also found on the glove. McGaney's DNA was also found on a coat discarded near the scene of the crime on Sept. 20, 2008, according to the witness.

Jerome Bivens, who represents Williams, spent considerable time getting Miller to explain the crime lab's procedures and its equipment, and seemed intrigued with the plastic tubes used to house liquid solutions containing DNA. "Is plastic a derivative of petroleum?" Bivens kept asking.

Miller replied that she didn't know. Finally, exasperated, she said, "I don't understand the relevance."

The judge sighed: "Ask another question."

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