By James Zambroski
January 31st, 2006 - Day 18
Scientists Take Over
In a case noted for its contradictions, another irony came to the forefront Wednesday in David Ray Camm's murder trial here in Warrick County.
Scientists have taken over the case. On Wednesday, Wayne Niemeyer and Tom Bevel, private consultants hired by the prosecution, testified about microscopic particles found on Camm's clothing. The prosecution contends the particles prove Camm was present when his family was slain.
Kim, Jill and Bradley Camm were found shot to death in a horrific crime scene inside the garage of the family's Georgetown, Indiana home. A trail of blood 25 feet long streamed from Kim Camm's fatal head wound. Bradley Camm was found sprawled on the floor next to his mother and Jill Camm was stilled strapped in her car seat inside the family's Ford Bronco.
But if David Camm is convicted of killing his family, it's likely to stem from evidence too tiny to be seen with the naked eye.
Niemeyer is a research scientist specializing in gun shot residue. He is employed by McCrone Associates near Chicago. He told the jury that he used an electron microscope to search for GSR particles on Camm's clothing.
An electron microscope is roughly the size of a large desk. It uses gas to remove electrons, the charged particles that orbit an element. That process emits energy in the form of x-rays. Each of the 112 known elements in the universe has a unique band of x-rays, which the microscope collects and uses to positively identify the elements present.
The spherical shaped GSR particles are about 1/10th the size of a human hair. They are composed of lead, barium and antimony; national standards require all three elements to be present in order to be called gunshot residue. GSR is emitted from a weapon when it is fired, Niemeyer said.
After examining Camm's T-shirt, shorts, socks, shoes and a green jacket found in the garage -- sometimes twice -- Niemeyer said he was able to find only two particles of GSR, one on Camm's socks and the other on the right hand pocket of his blue gym shorts.
No testimony was given to indicate how many of the particles are typically discharged when a shot is fired; the defense is likely to bring that up when they present their case later this month.
But Niemeyer said he made a surprising discovery as he analyzed the clothing: they were covered with brass shavings and some lead.
He told the jury that he typically searches for those compounds while looking for GSR, noting that most police crime labs don't have the time or desire to look for anything but gunshot residue, principally, he said, owing to their workload on other cases.
Because the elements present in gun shot residue are scientifically heavy, Niemeyer said he likes to search for the presence of lead when initiating a GSR analysis.
When he found lead on Camm's clothing, he continued searching for metal and discovered the brass. Twenty-three shavings on Camm's T-shirt; 24 on his socks; 129 on the left pocket of his shorts; 23 on the right; nine on the left shoe; seven on the right; 212 on the green jacket; 1,950 on the gym shorts and 794 elsewhere on the clothing.
Much of the lead, albeit in smaller quantities, was interspersed with the brass.
Niemeyer told the jury that the combination of brass and lead caused him to consider they came from ammunition. "I was surprised to see that..I thought it was very unusual," he said.
Shell casings are composed of brass (70 percent copper; 25 percent brass). Lead is a component of the projectile loaded onto the shell casings.
"That made sense to me that those shavings could have come from handling ammunition," he testified. ISP firearms expert Sgt. Edward M. Wessel, Jr. testified on Tuesday that brass is shed when an ammunition clip for the .380 Loricon used in the killings is loaded.
Of the gunshot residue, Niemeyer said,, "If it's there...at least it has somehow been associated with a gunshot."
Further analysis of the brass shavings created another mystery, Niemeyer said. The chemical composition of the metal found on Camm's clothing did not match the ratio (70/25) of brass used to make casings. He concluded the anomaly might come from oxidation on the casings. He told the jury he took scrapings from some personal ammunition he had at his home and found that they, too, did not meet the copper to zinc ratio in munitions brass.
But under cross examination, Niemeyer said he couldn't say if the lead and brass were deposited at the same time. He also testified that lead is a common element, found in some automobile brake shoes, fireworks and a variety of other sources.
He agreed that is was possible that the GSR got on Camm's clothes as he entered the garage when, he said, he found his family slain.
He also could not definitively say that the brass and lead on Camm's clothes didn't come from automobile work Camm was doing in another garage on his property. Camm's family has said he was in the process of restoring a Ford Mustang in that garage.
Later Wednesday, the state put on the first of their much anticipated high velocity impact spatter testimony, when Tom Bevel, a retired cop from Oklahoma who does consulting work on blood stain analysis and crime scene reconstruction took the stand. Bevel testified he's been certified as an expert in the field in 30 states as well as the federal judiciary.
I'll have more on what he told the jury in tomorrow's column.
P.S. Since I'm out of the office for the next several weeks, I can't access my WAVE 3 email account. If you wanna reach me while I'm in Boonville, send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Later.