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Week 10: Lab works with 750 known DNA profiles, court hears

Canadian Press

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — DNA profiles that appeared to match three of the six women Robert Pickton is accused of killing were found in his trailer, an expert testified during the 10th week as the jury in the multiple murder trial began to hear results of exhaustive lab testing done during the investigation.

Crown prosecutor Derrill Prevett, after leading witness Joy Kearsey through a lengthy, college-lecture-type explanation of DNA, asked the expert on DNA interpretation about some of the results.

As Mr. Pickton and the jury appeared to follow along intently, Ms. Kearsey described her findings about a hair seized from a white blanket found in the trailer where Mr. Pickton lived on the large property in Port Coquitlam.

A root from the hair was sent to an RCMP lab for DNA analysis.

“The DNA typing profile obtained from that root matches that of Sereena Abotsway,” she told the jury.

The probability of the sample belonging to someone other than Ms. Abotsway is one in 42 billion, she said.

RCMP labs use four different databases — the Canadian Caucasian database and three from the native populations in B.C., Ontario and Saskatchewan for comparison.

Mr. Pickton is charged with six counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Ms. Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Marnie Frey, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe and Andrea Joesbury. He is also charged with another 20 murder counts and will be tried at a later date.

Court has heard that a massive excavation of the Pickton property in Port Coquitlam, B.C., produced mountains of evidence that had to be analyzed.

Mr. Prevett asked the expert about another hair taken from the same blanket from which the root was removed and analyzed.

Ms. Kearsey said it was a partial DNA typing profile, meaning not all the standard nine of the total 23 chromosome pairs that are examined for the profile provided a result.

She said the partial DNA typing profile matched the known sample obtained from Mr. Pickton.

The probability of selecting an unrelated individual at random from the Canadian Caucasian population with the same profile is one in 180 million, she said.

Mr. Prevett then asked Ms. Kearsey about lipstick seized from the trailer.

The DNA profile was “a mixture of two individuals and the nature of this mixture allowed me to dissect out a major component,” Ms. Kearsey told Mr. Justice James Williams.

“The profile of the major component matches that of the known sample of Andrea Joesbury,” she said. The probability of the sample being from someone else is one in 56 billion, she said.

The profile of DNA found on another lipstick seized from a bag at the trailer was consistent with having originated from two individuals, said Ms. Kearsey. One profile matched the DNA of Ms. Wolfe.

Another swab from the same lipstick produced a different result, possibly matching the known samples from Dinah Taylor and Ms. Wolfe, she said.

The jury has heard evidence in the past that suggested Ms. Taylor spent a lot of time on the Pickton property, as well as on a nearby property where Mr. Pickton and his brother Dave had a type of party house known as Piggy's Palace.

Ms. Kearsey also said a hair sample was a “full-profile” match with Ms. Taylor — the best a lab technician can get from a DNA sample, with a one in 12 trillion match.

The jury heard earlier that Ms. Taylor, Pat Casanova and Lynn Ellingsen were arrested in the early stages of the investigation in February, 2002. Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Marilyn Sandford, Ms. Kearsey told the jury about many other items seized on the farm that pointed to Ms. Taylor after DNA analysis.

The items included gloves, other lipsticks, eyeliner, cigarette butts and loose hairs.

Ms. Kearsey agreed with Ms. Sandford's suggestion that Mr. Pickton's DNA was not found on them.

She testified that there were at least 750 known DNA profiles that lab staff worked with, including police involved in the investigation, searchers on the Pickton site, lab workers and people who came forward voluntarily after Mr. Pickton's arrest to provide a DNA sample.

Court also heard during the 10th week of the trial from a search technologist who said that clumps of hair were found near a slaughterhouse on the farm.

Tara Nicholls was another in a long line of search technicians who testified about items seized on the Pickton property during the massive investigation that started in February, 2002, and lasted almost two years.

Ms. Nicholls told the jury under cross-examination by defence lawyer Joe Saulnier that the clumps of hair were found in a destroyed portion of the slaughterhouse referred to as a “concrete foundation.”

The slaughterhouse building was adjacent to Mr. Pickton's trailer and was used by him to butcher pigs — one of the ways he made a living.

Ms. Nicholls said she examined about 50 blond-brownish hairs that were found in one clump, of which 14 had roots and one was a scalp hair about 38 centimetres long.

She testified about another clump of “loose hair” including some that were determined to be human.

The exhibits were sent to the lab for DNA analysis. Court did not hear at that time about any findings.

Another witness, search co-ordinator Angela Butler, told Mr. Prevett that she examined a “dirty and brittle condom” that had been tied at the open end.

As the jury looked at the photograph in a thick exhibit book, Ms. Butler testified that she “removed numerous animal hairs” from the condom, which were sent to the lab for DNA analysis.

Ms. Nicholls earlier told Crown prosecutor Satinder Sidhu that she examined and removed two small reddish stains from a receipt that was found on the site.

These were sent for DNA analysis.

Under cross-examination, Mr. Saulnier took Ms. Nicholls through a long list of items that she examined and which were sent for DNA analysis, including a blanket, a jean shirt and numerous exhibits from a blue garment bag.

They included many gloves with the fingertips cut away, a compact case with two powder puffs and several loose hairs.

Exhibits taken from the slaughterhouse and examined and sent for DNA analysis included almost 900 swabs taken from an apron and more than 600 from an umbrella.

Ms. Nicholls said a nylon braided orange rope had areas of “dark, reddish staining” and was cut into four-centimetre pieces and sent for analysis.

The Crown called its first “reporting officer” to provide jurors with a high-school-type introduction to DNA and how it is examined to determine whether a person can be “matched” or “excluded” from a crime scene.

The jurors heard about the process of analyzing DNA for several days, starting with the people who seize items that may contain DNA.

Tests are made of the item to determine whether it may have DNA, and that DNA is extracted and analyzed at a lab.

The final step is taken by reporting officers, such as Ms. Kearsey, who analyze the data and who provided the jury with its basic lesson yesterday.

Each human body has about 100 trillion cells, each with a nucleus.

There are 23 pairs of chromosomes in each cell, Ms. Kearsey explained.

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