Sanford trial keys off chain of evidence
Mountain Democrat staff writer
More Department of Justice witnesses made up the bulk of day 11 of the Andrew Sanford murder trial on April 9.
The day began with a demonstration, out of the presence of the jury, by defense attorney Erik Schlueter. He wrapped a styrofoam head in duct tape, as 16-year-old victim Richard Swanson might have been in 1980 at the South Y Shell gas station in South Lake Tahoe. However, as there was a lack of foundation — no one quite knew how the tape was put on Swanson’s head and Judge James R. Wagoner saw no connection to the length of the pieces of tape in evidence, Wagoner said he would not allow Schlueter to use the demonstration before the jury.
After the jury was let in the courtroom, the cross-examination of Ricci Cooksey of the state Department of Justice continued. The cross-exam regarding the lengths of the pieces of tape used to asphyxiate Swanson was short, with Cooksey soon stepping down.
Retired FBI Special Agent Christopher Hokpins testified next. His short testimony concerned more chain of custody and how he handled the evidence he had been given. Bryan Kuhlmann, an investigator for the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office, also covered chain of custody — both men testifying that they had handled evidence items.
Assistant Director of Latent Prints and Digital Evidence Krishna Naicker from the state DoJ took the stand. From 52 cards with latent fingerprints, Naicker made no matches. Some cards, he noted, had no details at all. He also noted that prints would not be left on the victim’s chin — Evidence Technician Richard Hartman had dusted Swanson’s chin for prints.
The next witness was Angelo Riente. However, as Riente was not present in court, a sort of courtroom play was held with Joe Alexander from the District Attorney’s Office reading from a transcript of Riente’s preliminary testimony. Schlueter and prosecutor Trish Kelliher read their own lines.
Riente, a latent print analyst with the DoJ, remembered the case very well, he said. Authorities wanted the pieces of duct tape, which he examined soon after the murder, processed for blood rather than fingerprints. The processes were mutually exclusive, he noted multiple times; doing one would render it impossible to do the other. He remembered wearing plastic gloves for the case, but not a face mask. On the pieces of tape he did process, he used Victoria Pure Blue dye. He said he received about 20 lift cards. Latent prints were found from Gary, a manager at the station; Don Ficklin, an employee; and Howard Stoball, co-owner of the station. No matches were made to Andrew Sanford.
Another quick testimony on the chain of custody of evidence from FBI Special Agent Chris Campion led to the testimony of John Massey, a former latent print examiner with the FBI.
Massey used an argon laster in an attempt to find fingerprints on pieces of evidence in 1995. He found none.
The final witness of the day was Paul Moschini, an inspector with the DA’s Office who had been sitting at the prosecution table and helping Kelliher throughout the trial. He, too, testified of the chain of evidence and how he transported items to the DoJ. He concluded his testimony in saying that he interviewed witness Jenna Weller, a former roommate of Sandford’s, after being given the name by Tamara Brazil, another former roommate. It took a week of leaving messages for Weller to call back. Their first interview lasted about a half-hour.
Judge Wagoner indicated to the jury that the prosecution would likely rest the coming Tuesday and, should the defense have witnesses, it would likely last through the next week. April 10 would be used for the attorneys discussing evidence and jury instructions; the next day of testimony would be Tuesday, April 15.