Testimony considers DNA on knife, clothes | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Testimony considers DNA on knife, clothes

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The DNA of Lisa Platz was found on the handle of a knife suspected of killing her 9-year-old daughter Rebbeca Aramburo but the child’s blood was not found on Platz’s clothing, an expert testified Monday.

Nicola Shea, senior criminalist with the Department of Justice in Sacramento, provided DNA test results she performed on clothing belonging to Rebbeca, Platz and Platz’s boyfriend James Csucsai. Four knives, including the military style knife suspected of fatally wounding Rebbeca, were also tested.

Platz is standing trial and faces life in prison for the alleged first degree murder and kidnapping of Rebbeca, who was discovered dead from throat slashes after authorities stormed a blood-soaked tent the three were inside of on Sept. 21, 2001 at Campground by the Lake.

Platz was found with wrist cuts while Csucsai had a throat gash.

Csucsai committed suicide in his jail cell roughly seven months after his arrest.

Shea was part of the prosecution’s case during the fifth day of trial at El Dorado County Superior Court.

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El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy contends Platz killed her daughter to end a bitter custody dispute. Public Defender Rick Meyer, who called one DNA expert to the stand, believes a mentally ill Csucsai killed Rebbeca after being cornered by authorities.

Platz and Csucsai reportedly took Rebbeca at gunpoint from her stepmother in Washington. An FBI manhunt ensued.

For a moment, Lacy had Shea focus on her finding on the suspected murder weapon.

“My understanding is the entire handle was swabbed and the only DNA we detected was Platz’s,” Shea said.

The military style knife’s blade had blood from all three people, she added.

Meyer asked Shea, who agreed, about the sensitive nature of DNA and how easily it can transfer.

DNA is located in most cell nuclei and provides the genetic blueprint for an individual human being. Except for identical biological twins, each person has different DNA.

Shea went on to testify that one of two bloody samples from fingernail scrapings of Rebbeca’s left hand had a low amount of Platz’s DNA.

Meyer cornered Shea about the numerous possibilities on where and how Platz’s DNA could have been found underneath her daughter’s fingernail. Meyer hypothesized Rebbeca clutching her mother in fright, Rebbeca’s hand in her mother’s blood or a scratch occurring days before.

Also tested were seven of eight strands of pulled hair found in Rebbeca’s right hand. Seven belonged to Rebbeca, Shea said. One strand, which appeared to have the same color treatment as Platz’s hair and may not have been pulled, did not have a sufficient root to conduct DNA testing, said Ricky Cooksey, a Department of Justice criminalist who prepared the evidence for DNA testing.

Cooksey, who testified before Shea, said part of his job is to look at blood stains and try to determine how a crime was committed and who did it. With so much blood in the tent, on the clothes and numerous possibilities for blood to transfer from clothing to clothing, Cooksey said he couldn’t make such a determination.

Aided by Lacy’s power-point presentation, Shea said three sample areas of Rebbeca’s clothing were investigated for DNA. Only the inside hem of Rebbeca’s right pants leg had blood other than her own. It belonged to Platz, Shea said.

Platz’s clothing — a thermal shirt, pants and underwear — had only her blood on it and a trace of Csucsai’s DNA on the shirt’s left elbow area.

But thermal pants and a red sweatshirt belonging to Csucsai had various levels of DNA belonging to all three. Rebbeca’s DNA was found on the left knee, left waist and front right thigh area of Csucsai’s clothing, Shea said.

After the DNA results, El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy asked Shea if she could conclude any criminal acts from the findings.

Shea responded and echoed Cooksey’s sentiments that it was difficult because of the amount of blood in the tent and possible “blood transfers” from one source to another.

For his only witness so far, Meyer called DNA expert Brian Wraxall. Meyer was given permission to call a witness because of scheduling difficulties with Wraxall.

Wraxall, whose lab received all evidence after the Department of Justice performed tests, agreed with Shea’s results. He testified about more blood stains on Csucsai’s clothing.

Wraxall concentrated his testing on Csucsai’s clothing per Meyer’s request.

From eight different blood samples taken from Csucsai’s sweatshirt, Wraxall found seven possessing Csucsai’s DNA. The eighth, a drop on the left cuff about a centimeter in size, had Rebbeca’s DNA, Wraxall said.

The finding was crucial for Meyer as Platz’s DNA on the knife handle was key for Lacy.

Wraxall said he also found Rebbeca’s blood on the left knee and inner left thigh area of Csucsai’s pants.

On cross examination, Lacy asked Wraxall about a sending a rough draft of the findings to Meyer instead of the final copy.

“It’s a question of whether we covered everything,” Wraxall replied, adding “Sometimes I do that.”

Lacy also asked Wraxall if Csucsai could have gotten the trio’s blood on his clothes by crawling around the tent. Wraxall said it was a possibility.

After trial resumes at 9 a.m. today, Lacy is expected to rest his case by afternoon. Meyer will then be able to call witnesses.

— E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com