By James Zambroski
February 1st, 2006 - Day 19
A Cop With A Magnifying Glass
Tom Bevel's books sell for hundreds of dollars on the Internet. He's recognized as a crime expert in 30 states, the federal court system and he's testified under oath more than 100 times.
He's got a master's degree in police administration; he's an associate university professor in Oklahoma and teaches crime scene analysis all over the country. He gets a pension as a retired cop.
Nevertheless, the David Ray Camm defense team believes he's full of crap; it'll be up to the jury to decide if they're right.
Bevel's testimony is critical to the state's case against Camm because if his interpretation of blood stains found at the crime scene are right (and believed beyond a reasonable doubt), they prove Camm was present not only when his daughter Jill was murdered, but also when his wife, Kimberly Camm, was shot to death.
During a day long stint on the witness stand in Camm's re-trial for murdering his family more than five years ago, Bevel used photographs and his expertise to show the jury that a small line of blood on Camm's tennis shoe not only came from Kim Camm, but was deposited almost immediately after she was mortally struck by gunfire.
It means Camm either shot his wife or was present and close by when she was slain, Bevel testified.
Bevel gave the jury (and anyone else like me, trying to pay attention) a short primer on how blood and tissue are dispersed after a human being is struck by a speeding bullet.
Apparently a trained expert can tell the origin and direction of blood flow by looking at the outline of a blood stain. The defense, incidentally, disagrees that those conclusions are all that obvious and Bevel readily admits there are several influencing factors.
Some, he said, are clear cut. A blood stain that shows spiky protrusions along its edge has been struck by something. The points are called 'skeletonizing' and come after the blood is deposited, but before it dries.
There are two small stains on the concrete floor of the Georgetown, Indiana garage near where Kim's body was found that drew Bevel's attention. One is almost perfectly round, with the outside circumference showing the spiking, the jagged points that look like the outer shell from a nut on a horse chestnut tree.
Bevel claims these jagged points radiating from the center of the blood drop were caused by low velocity impact spatter. He testified he believes that a second drop of Kimberly's blood fell from several feet straight down into the center of the first drop, before either had dried. 'Drop on drop,' he called it.
The energy of the second, smaller drop falling into the center of the first drop caused the spiked points seen rather clearly in the first drop. His belief is that both of these blood drops came from Kim's head wound almost at the moment she was hit by the gunshot that killed her.
A second blood stain on the floor underneath her wrist shows a dagger like point coming out of one end of it. Bevel says this particular signature is medium velocity impact spatter derived from the weight of Kim's arm falling on it as she died.
When velocity (force) hits blood, the analysts say it is propelled at a 90 degree angle from that force. For example, if you were looking straight at the barrel of a gun and a bullet hit you right between the eyes above your nose, high velocity impact spatter would be propelled back out through the entry wound, at a 90 degree angle to your forehead and eyebrows.
The same thing happened, albeit at lower velocity, to the blood stain under Mrs. Camm's wrist, Bevel said. When she fell, the energy of her arm striking the blood stain beneath it caused medium velocity impact spatter, sending the dagger-like projection seen at one end of the stain AND depositing blood on David Camm's left tennis shoe.
Bevel says there is additional evidence on the shoe to support this -- principally the shape of the stain. It is somewhat elipitical, with one end fatter and the other, toward the heel, more pointed, meaning the direction in which it was projected was toe to heel.
The Oklahoma native (who charges around $250 an hour for his work) said he believes that stain could not have been deposited on David Camm's shoe from him walking on blood in the garage. For one thing, there are no bloody footprints and for another, the angle is wrong, he testified.
If Camm had stepped into the blood flow that emanated from Kim's head wound, the force of the shoe going down into the blood (medium velocity impact) would have caused the spatter to move out at 90 degrees away from the point of contact between blood and the sole of the shoe, thus making it impossible for the stain to wind up near the laces.
Bevel testified that there was one other force that could have projected the stain onto Camm's shoe, and that is if someone ELSE had stepped into Mrs. Camm's blood. But owing to the lack of disruption of the stain (no shoe prints), that scenario is highly unlikely, he said.
Complex? You bet, but at the same time, is it convincing? Bevel was a good witness; he performed well on the stand, but isn't that part of what he's paid to be?
What's a defense lawyer to do? The Camm strategy: attack the whole notion that anyone, no matter how smart, can interpret blood stains with scientific consistency.
"It's not DNA, it's not fingerprints. Not even GSR, where they have standards," said Stacy Uliana, Camm's co-counsel. "It is extremely subjective interpretation. It's his opinion."
I guess the rub with that logic is the defense has a stable of the same kind of horses coming in later this month.