Ketchup or bloodstain?
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Attorneys haggled over evidence in a more than two-decade-old triple murder case during a hearing in El Dorado County Superior Court Friday afternoon.
Deputy District Attorney Dale Gomes, who participated in Friday’s hearing via telephone, questioned the relevance of the majority of 64 items requested from prosecutors by Joseph Nissensohn’s defense team.
Nissensohn is charged with the 1989 killing of South Lake Tahoe teenager Kathy Graves and the 1981 slayings of Seaside, Calif., teenagers Tammy Jarschke and Tonya Jones.
The request by defense attorney Tom Wirtz includes an extensive list of the laboratory protocols and testing undertaken in the processing of evidence in the case.
Gomes acknowledged 10 of the 64 requests are related to DNA testing and are appropriate. He said he is working to get the requested items to the defense.
But the remainder of the items have little bearing on the case, Gomes said. He said he has an issue with the “absurd and ultimately irrelevant shotgun approach” he believes the defense has taken.
The prosecutor used a defense request for the testing procedures completed on a possible bloodstain on the wall of a hotel room as an example of one of the items he finds objectionable.
Police determined the stain was barbecue sauce or ketchup, Gomes said.
The defense must have the opportunity to see how the stain and similar items of evidence were tested to see if the police’s conclusion is accurate, Wirtz said.
Just having the conclusions of such tests is meaningless because it leaves the defense without the ability to ensure the tests were undertaken properly, Wirtz said.
There is evidence to suggest the killer of the Jarschke and Jones stayed in the hotel room, Wirtz said, adding he is not obligated to tell prosecutors why a review of evidence collection procedures may be necessary to the defense’s case.
“This is not a fishing expedition,” Wirtz said.
Gomes said he would detail the objections to the defense request in a brief prior to the case’s next hearing on Feb. 4.
In November, El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury denied an October defense motion requesting materials from the prosecution related to its communications leading up to the addition of the Monterey County killings to the Graves case.
In the October motion, the defense contended prosecutors joined the cases in “bad faith” to “gain a tactical advantage” against Nissensohn.
Judge Kingsbury disagreed.
“There has been no factual support whatsoever offered for the defendant’s motion, merely his ungrounded speculation that the prosecution is acting in bad faith and is involved in ‘concealing the truth,'” Kingsbury wrote in a Nov. 12 ruling. “In the absence of any justification for the discovery, the motion is denied.”
Both prosecutors and the defense have blamed each other for delays in the case. Prosecutors filed charges against Nissensohn Jan. 29, 2008.
Much of the defense team’s focus up until October had been on pre-trial motions, according to the October defense motion. The focus has only recently begun to change to trial preparations, according to the motion.
Expected defense motions requesting the case be thrown out because of alleged due process violations, as well as motions to sever the Monterey killings from the case and change the trial’s venue due to pre-trial press coverage have not yet been filed.
In the October motion, Wirtz said the defense would not be able to go to trial prior to Sept. 15.
Nissensohn could face the death penalty if convicted.