Mitochondrial DNA. Trace evidence analysis. Polymer and nitroglycerin residue. Whorls. Rifling. Botanical forensics. That is just some of the forensic evidence being introduced in the trial of Washington, D.C., sniper defendant John Allen Muhammad in Virginia Beach, Va.
The Washington Post says that, “forensic evidence can be among the most damning in a criminal case, and it can be enough to put a courtroom to sleep.” Even the judge, LeRoy F. Millette Jr., called a break this week in the middle of an FBI specialist’s DNA testimony, saying, “I’m getting a little drowsy.”
Forensic evidence “can be boring. But good prosecutors keep laying it on until the jury walks inextricably toward a conviction,” said Rod Leffler, a former Virginia police officer and prosecutor, now a defense lawyer. “They build and build and build until there is no reasonable doubt that these guys fired this weapon. It’s just as good as someone saying they saw it. In fact, it’s better.”
“Jurors can get lost, and you can’t really blame them,” said Lawrence Kobilinsky of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, who has testified nearly 80 times as an expert. “The bottom line is, the way it’s explained makes a difference,” he said. “In the O.J. Simpson case, a mountain of evidence didn’t amount to anything because the jury didn’t buy it.”
Muhammad, 42, is charged in the Oct. 9, 2002, shooting death of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a Sunoco station in Prince William County, Va.