By James Zambroski
February 16th, 2006: Day 29
Police and Professors
Style as much as substance is shaping the Battle of the Blood Barons at the Warrick County murder trial of David Ray Camm.
Not only do defense and prosecution experts completely disagree on how blood was deposited on Camm's t-shirt and shoes, everything from the appearance, training, experience and backgrounds of these hired guns is diametrically opposed to each other.
That much became obvious as the defense began attempts to knock down the core of the state's evidence that Camm ruthlessly shot his wife Kimberly and their to children, Bradley and Jill, to death on September 28, 2000.
Paul Kish and Bart Epstein, the first two blood stain analysts to take the stand on behalf of Camm's defense, have never worn the uniform, gun and badge of a sworn police officer.
Prosecution stars Rodney Englert, Tom Bevel and Bill Chapin, on the other hand, all had spent time on the street as police officers prior to their second careers as experts for hire in the world of law and order.
While Kish and Epstein took a more scholarly approach to their work, appearing owlish and soft spoken as they presented their findings to the jury, garnering their expertise through textbooks, professional associations, peer review and laboratory experiments, Englert, et.al. had the rough hewn edges, albeit now in expensive suits, of retired cops who've made dozens of crime scenes as first responders; snapped the cuffs on hundreds of suspects and spent as much time in the witness chair as the Lazy Boy in their homes across the fruited plain.
From them the message to the jury: Experience counts.
The question is, does the jury care? Better, is the difference by design of both parties and is the dichotomy part of a grand strategy to win the day, either sending Camm to the penitentiary or back home to Georgetown, Indiana?
One after another, Kish and Epstein told the jury that they found absolutely no high velocity impact spatter on any of Camm's clothing or shoes. Blood stains on his t-shirt and tennis shoe from Jill Camm and her mother, Kimberly, were placed by transfer, supporting Camm's contention that he rubbed against his daughter and trampled in the blood flowing from his wife's mortally wounded head.
Englert, Bevel and Chapin, on the other hand, have all testified that eight microdots of blood and tissue could only have become attached to Camm's clothing as the result of blow back from gun fire and that had to happen near the moment mother and children were shot to death.
Since blood stain analysis has a decidedly subjective element to it; patterns, origins and their meanings are not rock solid science like DNA coding, or an X-ray, for example, both prosecution and defense lawyers were reduced to extracting concessions from the experts when it came time for their respective cross examinations.
And here the style differences often became apparent.
Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson, for example, repeatedly asked Kish to explain precisely how and where the transfer took place. Kish replied that there is no simple answer to the question, the legal code for saying 'I don't know' or 'I can't say, exactly,' all the while sticking with his opinion the H.V.I.S. is absent in this case.
He pummeled Kish over his lack of law enforcement experience, wondering if he was missing the "sense of the scene" he believed critical in reading blood stain patterns. Kish cited his educational work and training as a more important consideration in judging his theories.
Defense attorney Katherine "Kitty" Liell relentlessly questioned Englert about whether he had any schooling in chemistry, physics, math or geometry. Each time, Englert acknowledged that he did not, saying that such education "is not needed in what I do."
Likewise with Bill Chapin, a man who makes most of his living these days researching how minute particles of paint move in vehicle crashes, how contamination on conveyor belts leads to equipment failure or how foreign objects spoil the production of medicine, a field called Materials Disposition.
Defense counsel Stacy Uliana wondered what that had to do with blood droplets on clothing and asked Chapin to cite scholarly research published in the field. He could not.
Chapin did bring out photographs of Camm's shirt, often magnified 40 to 120 times and tried to make the case how his opinion was relevant to the case.
Reading these tea leaves as one might think the jury will is a decidedly risky business. The panel had far more written questions for Kish than Englert, but that might be because they are now comfortable with a right they've had from day one in this trial.
Style or substance -- we'll get the definitive answer about which is more important several weeks from now when the votes are counted from the only ones who matter in determining Camm's fate.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.