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Witnesses testify on DNA, locations of bodies

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From page A1 | September 13, 2013 |

The Joseph Michael Nissensohn murder trial, a death penalty case, continued Tuesday morning with witnesses called to testify about evidence, including DNA and locations of bodies found.

Prosecutor Dale Gomes first called Carolyn Weigand to the stand. Weigand, a senior criminalist with the state Department of Justice, explained to the jury what DNA is and how it works. Essentially the blueprint of cells, half of the alleles that make up DNA come from the father, half from the mother. DNA is not the same in any two people, save for identical twins. To see if DNA matches with another person, she looks at 15 points to see if the alleles match up with those from the other person’s. To determine if the person in question is a child, the set of alleles, assigned numbers, have to match up with the possible alleles provided by the parents.

Weigand’s specialty, she said, is in biological remains, in this case bones. She took DNA from the bones thought to be of Kathy Graves, one of Nissensohn’s alleged victims, and matched it with the DNA of Carla Hall and Barry Graves, the allegedly murdered 15-year-old’s parents. Weigand said the DNA from the bones “very likely came from the child of” the two.

Nissensohn is also accused of killing teenagers Tammy Jarschke and Tonya Jones in Monterey in 1981, eight years before the death of Graves. Detective Martin Opseth of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office took the case of Jarschke and Jones in 2004 and met with Jake Gregory of the FBI a year later. The FBI, who lost interest in the case, was of little help, he said, but he continued to send evidence to the state Department of Justice.

At the time, he had not heard of Chews Ridge in the Los Padres National Forest near Carmel. Soon, though, he was familiar with the area, including Mill Site Two, where the bodies of Jarschke and Jones were found, identified using dental records. Nissensohn had previously testified it took him four or five hours to hike from where his car broke down to where he was picked up. Opseth said he did it in 40 minutes, with another 25 minutes to get to a nearby campground. The area is, however, isolated, and “not a Sunday drive.”

A pile of clothes was found near the bodies, Opseth said, and biological fluid was found on Jones’ jeans. However, the DNA was not that of Nissensohn, but of a man he was known to associate with. Opseth said the two girls, who met as runaways, were “hanging out, partying, meeting guys. They were becoming sexually active and independent.” The DNA could have been from a suspect, he said, or could just be from a sexual encounter.

Videos were shown, taken from a helicopter, of the area in question before Opseth was excused from the stand.

Tuesday ended with an officer from the county jail testifying that had searched Nissensohn’s cell in January 2011 as a routine search. A red folder, referenced by another witness, was found. In it, a Ouija board was found, along with a “sexually explicit” photocopied book.

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