DEFENDANT ANDREW SANFORD, left, sits in court with his attorney Erik Schlueter on April 3. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene


DNA evidence ‘could not exclude’ defendant

By From page A1 | April 07, 2014

Days eight and nine of the Andrew Sanford murder trial focused on DNA evidence — of which Sanford could not be excluded as a contributor.

Jenna Weller continued her testimony from the previous day by describing Sanford as “curious, calm” while they had a conversation on whether God forgives murderers — possibly alluding to the 1980 murder of 16-year-old Richard Swanson at the South Y Shell gas station in South Lake Tahoe. “He became more insistent. More serious,” she said.

After failing to return calls to District Attorney Investigator Paul Moschini, Weller finally made contact on April 5, 2012. Her reasoning for not returning calls was that she “didn’t want to be responsible for Andy getting in trouble. I didn’t want to talk about all the stuff that had happened while I lived there.” She was embarrassed and afraid, she said. “I lived at his house. I was afraid to open a can of worms. I was afraid I would be in court.” She said it was “not a shining time in my life.” She had had a drug and alcohol problem then, but went to rehab in 2012 and has been clean and sober since. It was while in rehab that she contacted Moschini.

But now, she said, during testimony, she was not afraid, only nervous. After being asked, she told prosecutor Trish Kelliher that everything she said was the truth.

She told defense attorney Erik Schlueter that she had a drug and alcohol problem “for years” and initially concealed her use of methamphetamine from Moschini. The reason that her mother’s calendar of events was off was also due to concealing her lifestyle.

The last time she saw Sanford was when he was arrested. She was at a friend’s apartment with Tammy, the mother of Sanford’s son, hiding under the bed. Sanford kicked the door in yelling, “Where is she?” Weller testified. She noted that she did not like Sanford. “He beat up Tammy, chased her, broke the TV, turned the couch over, got on top of her — I thought he was going to hurt her,” she said. She believed that Sanford was looking for her, not Tammy, and she didn’t want him to know she was there. She called 911, but did not come out until after Sanford left. She did not want to return to Sanford’s house, despite her own children being there, for fear of what Sanford would do.

“I just don’t trust him. I’ve seen him hit the mother of his child … He did mean things to me,” she concluded.

Angi Christensen from the FBI lab in Quantico, Va., was next to testify. She spoke of the chain of evidence and removing hairs and fibers from the duct tape found around Swanson.

Next to the stand was Peggy Burnham, who knew Sanford while she was in high school. She dropped out to go to beauty school, she said, but she knew Sanford. She dated Ron Ficklin, who Sanford lived with, for a while. She hung out with Ron and Don Ficklin, Bambi and Tim Blankenship and their circle of friends. She knew Swanson in passing.

The focus of her testimony was that, one day in 1980, while she was 17, she came out of the Kmart next to the Shell station to find Sanford sitting in her Suburu, windshield wipers going and music blasting. She was “very surprised” to see Sanford, who was wearing a “dirty, dirty green jacket” and had “messy hair.” She ran to her car. “I just remember being kind of scared, being in a confrontation … an altercation.” Sanford put his hands on her upper arms, shaking her. “I remember being afraid,” she said. It was the last time she could recall seeing Sanford.

After Burnham was excused, Shawn Kacer was called to the stand. Kacer, a senior criminalist and now assistant lab director in the DNA section of the California Department of Justice, received items from the case in 2009 and did analysis in 2010.

He noted that he changed gloves very often — going through a box or two of gloves in a single day is not uncommon. He even changed gloves before holding a camera to document the evidence and then changed gloves after handling the camera.

After explaining what DNA was to the jury, the trial day ended.

The next day began with Karen Lanning from the FBI testifying. Lanning, the chief of the evidence control unit in Quantico, testified that her unit had received the items and sent them out to other divisions. A plan for the order in which the divisions would receive the items was created and executed.

Kacer was then brought back. He meticulously detailed each piece of evidence, how he handled them, how he swabbed each piece for DNA and how the testing process worked. A large portion of the evidence came back showing a mix of DNA — more than one contributor and up to four — but only Swanson’s DNA could positively be identified. However, based off of the 14 reference samples he was provided with, he “could not exclude” Sanford as being a contributor to DNA on two pieces of duct tape found on Swanson. Other evidence with multiple contributors did not have enough DNA left to make solid interpretations.

He also noted that two pieces of evidence were contaminated; he found his own DNA on one piece and DNA from analyst Jim Jefferey — who had previously testified — on another.

Robert Blasier, an attorney on the O.J. Simpson case, took over the cross-examination for Schlueter. He reviewed Kacer’s training and education, confirming Kacer had not published any articles. He also confirmed that Kacer was unable to tell how long it took the DNA to degrade.

Outside of the jury, Blasier questioned Kacer on articles related to DNA being transferred via fingerprinting brushes and the policies of the South Lake Tahoe Police Department in 1980. Judge James R. Wagoner shot down the questioning, saying the current policy did not impact the past policy in a case such as this, and the questioning was not relevant and would only lead to speculation.

With the jury back in, Kacer confirmed that fingerprint brushes could possibly transfer DNA from one object to another. Under later questioning from Kelliher, he noted many factors could affect it, including the dryness of the stain and the force used on the brush.

The trial will continue Tuesday.

Cole Mayer

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