Evidence in slayings of 2 campers at park will be re-analyzed
BY CARLOS SANTOS
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
CHARLOTTESVILLE - The FBI has changed its interpretation of critical evidence found where two Shenandoah National Park campers were killed, and all physical evidence in the case will be re-analyzed as a result.
Federal prosecutors yesterday asked a judge for a six-month continuance in the capital-murder case against Darrell David Rice, admitting their own forensic expert recently changed her analysis and concluded some of the evidence was left by another man.
The prosecutors are seeking more time for additional DNA testing at this late stage because previous testing was improperly done by the FBI forensic laboratory at Quantico, according to court papers.
The trial, already postponed once, had been scheduled to begin next week.
The forensic expert - contradicting her earlier statement - told prosecutors recently that a DNA analysis of stains found on ligatures used to bind Julianne Marie Williams and Laura "Lollie" Winans showed the source is "of male origin, excludes Rice, and most likely is that of one of the perpetrators," according to the motion for continuance filed in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville. The stains could have been made by saliva or sweat.
Rice, 36, of Columbia, Md., is charged with two counts of capital murder in the deaths of Williams, 24, of Burlington, Vt., and Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine. The two women were killed in the Shenandoah National Park in 1996. Prosecutors claim Rice killed them - slitting their throats - because they were lesbians.
"The new opinion of one of the government's experts is troubling and must be re-evaluated," prosecutors concede in their motion.
"The government intends to resubmit the physical evidence from the entire case for re-examining and re-evaluation."
The motion's wording that the DNA material "likely is that of one of the perpetrators" seems to suggest that the government is theorizing now that there may have been more than one killer.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tom Bondurant and Tony Giorno, who are prosecuting the case, would not comment on their motion.
"I can't comment on the possible change of theory in the government's case that there's more than one perpetrator," said Fred Heblich, one of Rice's defense lawyers. "There is no indication it was Mr. Rice.
"I think the added evidence cumulatively shows that someone other than Mr. Rice was the perpetrator of the crime," said Heblich.
The newest DNA disclosure, outlined in the motion, shows that fibers found on glove liners discovered at the crime scene were from cloth used to bind the two women. One human head hair was also found on the glove liners and another human head hair was found on duct tape used to bind Winans.
Neither hair shaft belongs to the victims or Rice, the prosecution has said.
Defense attorneys said this month that mitochondrial DNA tests on the hairs raised the possibility that serial killer Richard Marc Evonitz could have murdered the hikers.
Evonitz killed Sofia Silva and Kati and Kristin Lisk in 1996 and 1997. Evonitz committed suicide last year as police closed in to arrest him in Sarasota, Fla.
In their motion, however, prosecutors discount the possibility that Evonitz was the killer, saying that though the hairs are microscopically similar to Evonitz's hair, "it does not match the mitochondrial DNA profile exactly," and "one in four Caucasians could be the source of the hairs found at the crime scene.
"From this thin thread of hair evidence, the defense postulates that Evonitz is the killer. There is not one scintilla of evidence to support that argument," according to the motion.
The new DNA interpretation came after the FBI lab at Quantico recently re-analyzed the evidence and discovered mistakes it had made. The FBI forensic expert, for example, "changed her prior statements concerning her opinions about the DNA on the ligatures," according to the motion.
The FBI lab also inaccurately reported initially that the hair found on glove liners at the crime scene belonged to one of the victims. Further testing showed it did not belong to either victim or to Rice, according to the court papers.
The FBI lab, apparently believing the glove liners belonged to one of the victims because of the inaccurate hair identification, did not look for DNA evidence inside the liners until this month at the prosecutors' request. Two knuckle-hairs were found inside the liners and are being analyzed.
The motion says prosecutors have circumstantial proof that Rice was present at the time and place of the slayings, that he was motivated by his hatred of gays and that, according to jailhouse informants, Rice knew things about the crime that had not been made public.
"Rice had a great deal of information about the crime scene and details of the crime that were not matters in the public domain," the motion states.
The motion also states that a jailhouse informant will testify that Rice admitted he killed the two women.
Rice's trial was to have started Oct. 20 but was delayed for two weeks to allow the defense to ask U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to drop the death penalty as a possible punishment against Rice because of the new DNA evidence. Ashcroft has not responded to the defense team's request.
The newest request for a continuance means the trial may be delayed until at least April.
Rice is serving an 11-year sentence for the 1997 attempted abduction of a woman who was riding her bicycle on the Skyline Drive. That attack led prosecutors to investigate Rice in the slayings of Winans and Williams.
Contact Carlos Santos at (434) 295-9542 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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