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Week 9: Technologists describe DNA testing details

Defence and prosecution question investigators about very different items of evidence

Globe and Mail Update

It was as if two different cases were being presented to the jury at Robert Pickton's first-degree murder trial.

The 12-member jury was hearing during the ninth week of the proceedings from witnesses who were involved in the process of sending items, or swabs from items, to the biological section of the RCMP forensic lab for DNA testing. However, the prosecution has been interested in an entirely different list of items than has the defence.

The jury has been told that DNA results will play a significant role in the prosecution case. But the significance of the referrals identified in court will not be apparent until later in the trial. The jury was not told where the items were found or the results of the tests.

Mr. Pickton is on trial for the murder of six women: Mona Wilson, Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Georgina Papin, Marnie Frey and Brenda Wolfe. He faces an additional 20 charges of murder. A date has not yet been set for a second trial.

In response to questioning by prosecutor Derrill Prevett during the ninth week, technologist Tanya Dare confirmed that DNA testing was requested for a yellowish brown stain on the back piping of a black nylon jacket and for a second stain on the inside lining of the collar.

She also referred for DNA testing a plastic bottle with red, orange, black and purple stickers, a page from an address book, wrappers and a pair of nail clippers.

Defence lawyer Richard Brooks directed Ms. Dare elsewhere. He questioned her about her efforts to examine a freezer on the property for blood-like staining. She spent several days examining areas of a truck for the presence of biological staining or hairs, she said.

She examined a 14-inch band saw that came from the home of Pat Casanova. The jury has previously heard that Mr. Casanova was arrested and released without charge.

Ms. Dare spent a considerable amount of time examining the saw, going back on two separate occasions, she confirmed in response to questioning by Mr. Brooks.

She saw an area of granular yellow waxy material; fatty material in another area. Swabs were sent to the biological section for DNA examination and protein analysis, she said. The significance of what she found on the saw was not explained to the jury.

Ms. Dare also confirmed she sent swabs and cuttings from black pants from a garment bag taken from Mr. Pickton's house trailer, swabs from a butterfly necklace, a beaded black, white and grey necklace, a frog pendant, several socks, hair roots and a turtleneck shirt.

The testimony of the next witness, technologist Nancy Eng, also shifted as questioning in court moved from the prosecution to the defence.

In response to questioning by Mr. Prevett, the prosecutor, Ms. Eng confirmed she sent cuttings and swabs for DNA examination from a jacket, an unopened syringe package, an empty syringe package, a crumpled white paper bag, a pair of earrings and a ring.

But in response to questioning by defence lawyer Chris Karlsson, Ms. Eng confirmed she sent swabs and cuttings for DNA testing from more than 30 items not mentioned by the prosecution.

The lengthy list of items included a swab from a fingernail clipping from a lint trap in a dryer, hair root from hair found on a flannel bed sheet, a swab from a syringe plunger found in the pocket of a pair of denim overalls, and cuttings from clothing, including from women's underwear.

The jury also heard yesterday that Ms. Dare's DNA turned up on five exhibits. The exhibits were not identified in court. A previous witness, Jorge Frasca, said earlier his DNA showed up on the cellophane wrapping surrounding a revolver with a dildo on the barrel. The gun was found in Mr. Pickton's house trailer.

The court previously heard a police officer's DNA had been found on the wrapping. The DNA of Mr. Pickton and one of his alleged victims was also discovered on the dildo.

Five of six scientists to testify at Mr. Pickton's first-degree-murder trial during the ninth week acknowledged that they contaminated evidence seized during the mammoth police investigation.

Scientists take several precautions in an effort to prevent contamination of evidence, Clifton Ho, a technologist with the RCMP's evidence recovery unit, said in response to questioning by defence lawyer Richard Brooks.

They wear protective clothing and clean their workspace and tools between examinations of each exhibit, Mr. Ho said. “But contamination is always possible.”

Mr. Ho confirmed he contaminated a white plastic washtub seized from a side table in the slaughterhouse on the Pickton farm. His DNA was also found on a plastic bag. He said he did not know how he contaminated the two pieces of evidence.

Christy Sanderson, another technologist with the RCMP unit, also confirmed that her DNA turned up on five exhibits.

The jury has been told that police collected around 200,000 items for DNA testing during a 20-month search of the Pickton farm after Mr. Pickton was arrested in February, 2002.

Testimony about contamination of the evidence has come out during cross-examination of witnesses by defence counsel, although the jury has not heard any testimony about the significance of the contamination.

The jury heard that, among the items either swabbed or cut up and sent for DNA testing, were syringes, condoms, tissues with blood-like staining, a T-shirt that tested positive for semen, and numerous articles of clothing, including women's underwear.

Mr. Ho confirmed that he cut off a section of paper from a marijuana cigarette found on the Pickton farm.

The beige-coloured paper was placed in a tube and sent to the biology section of the RCMP forensic lab for DNA analysis.

Ms. Sanderson said during cross-examination by defence that swabs were taken from a white electric massager from the bedroom of Mr. Pickton's brother Dave, who also lived on the farm. She also said hair roots from hair found on socks, slippers and a sleeping bag were sent for testing. And she sent a swab from black gym shorts that tested positive for semen.

In response to questioning by Crown prosecutor Satinder Sidhu, Ms. Sanderson told the jury about a black jacket. Testing indicated blood on part of the inside of the jacket. She cut out a portion of the area, put it in a tube and sent it to the biology section for DNA testing, she said.

The legal team for Mr. Pickton also drew the attention to several items seized from the pig farmer's slaughterhouse — knives, a saw with blood-like staining on the handle, a clump of hair in an orange plastic bag — that the prosecution did not introduce at the trial.

Lindsay Carter, a technologist with the RCMP's evidence recovery unit, told the court she sent swabs of several items for DNA testing after preliminary examination and testing indicated the presence of trace biological evidence.

In response to questioning by defence lawyer Joseph Saulnier, Ms. Carter said she sent for DNA testing the roots of five hairs that she was told were found in a clump of hair discovered in a back room of the slaughterhouse.

Ms. Carter also confirmed she swabbed two knives and a large saw from the slaughterhouse and sent the swabs for DNA testing.

She found an animal hair on the saw as well as pink staining and lots of rust, she said. She also discovered 14 areas of blood-like staining on the handle. Her testing confirmed the presence of blood, although the testing did not reveal whether the blood was from an animal or a human, the court was told.

The seven men and five women on the jury were also directed to keep track of several sex-related items found in the house of Mr. Pickton's brother, Dave Pickton.

Dave Pickton lived in a farmhouse at the south end of the property, near Dominion Avenue in Port Coquitlam. Robert Pickton lived in a trailer at the south end.

The court has heard that partial remains of the six women were found within 100 metres of Robert Pickton's trailer.

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