February 7th, 2006 - Day 22: The Microscopist

by James Zambroski

February 7th, 2006 - Day 22
The Microscopist

It is a tissue sample invisible to the naked eye, a piece of Jill Camm interwoven into the fabric of her father's t-shirt.

The specimen is about half the thickness of a paperclip, but magnified and projected on a courtroom wall, it looks like a reddish boulder nestled amongst fallen trees in a forest.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it could be the exhibit that sends David Ray Camm to jail for life. But from the defense standpoint, William Chapin's work is all about not judging a book by it's cover, or even, that looks can be deceiving.

Chapin, a hired specialist who works for McCrone Associates, a testing laboratory outside Chicago, testified he found the piece of tissue and three other smaller, unidentified biological samples when he was asked to microscopically search through Camm's clothing.

Like four other state blood analysts before him, he testified that the specimen places Camm next to his daughter when she was shot to death on September 28, 2000, alongside her mother, Kimberly and older brother, Brad.

The origin of that opinion is Chapin's belief that the piece of Jill was expelled into her father's shirt by high velocity impact spatter, the signature of a close-up gunshot fired into a human being -- in this case, little Jill's head.

In what has become a routine in this case, partly out of common sense and partly because of the defense strategy aimed at discrediting the academic credentials of prosecution witnesses, the first half-hour of Chapin's testimony was taken up with a prosecution recital of Chapin's education and experience (done through leading and softball questions asked of the witness).

And like every prior expert advancing the state's case, Chapin has a bachelor's degree, a vast number of years of experience and continuing education seminars. Only blood spatter analyst Tom Bevel had an advanced academic degree, a master's in police administration.

McCrone has billed the citizens of Floyd County a shade under $115,000 for their work in the Camm case, although Chapin was quick to point out that his $350 per hour rate for testimony goes straight to the company; he is a salaried employee, paid the same whether he's in a Boonville courtroom or at his desk at company headquarters.

In an ironic twist that has become the ordinary in this case, McCrone is also doing work for the defense. McCrone has unique examining equipment and was ordered to cooperate with the defense by the judge. Many photographs taken by Bill Chapin will be used by defense experts to try and debunk his opinions.

Although he is a former police officer who has taken two courses in blood stain analysis, Chapin's main field of expertise is something called materials disposition. And therein lies the rub as far as the defense is concerned.

Most of Chapin's work is for industry, manufacturing and civil law. How did two big rig trucks collide (microscopic analysis of paint scrapings taken from the vehicles); how was medication contaminated (debris on tablets); how did a conveyor belt catch fire (charred material on a gearbox) and so forth.

Chapin believes the same scientific principals that apply to those investigations -- how material was distributed from one place to another -- applies equally to the world of crime forensics.

"If you don't know how a material was deposited, you don't know the relevance of that material," he said.

But Stacey Uliana, the scientific co-counsel defending Camm, says theories of material disposition are unheard of in crime circles and that Chapin's work was created just for the Camm trial.

"This witness has created a new science," she said. "There is no recognized material disposition in the American Academy of Forensic Sciences."

Chapin testified that the tissue sample he found using upwards of 120X magnification is material that could only have been deposited by high velocity impact spatter, or in one other instance beneficial to the prosecution, by Camm rubbing up against blood and tissue from his daughter seconds after it was sprayed on the back of the front passenger seat of the Bronco in which she was slain.

"The tissue was present," said Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson of the largest of the sample. "It could not get there by transfer; it had to get there by free flight, a mechanism that propelled it there."

Uliana, acknowledging that the defense will rely on experts in the field of blood stain analysis who will use Chapin's pictures, nevertheless said their testimony will be completely different.

"Our analysts have a completely different approach," she said. "What you see are two different schools in this blood stain pattern community."

"When they (the jury) listen to everything, they're going to see how subjective this whole area is," Uliana said.

NEXT: With the scientific testimony over for the state, how the prosecution will attack Camm's alibi.

P.S. Since I'm out of the office, I can't access my WAVE 3 email account. If you wanna reach me while I'm in Boonville, send email to: zamman1953@yahoo.com.