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Judge won’t authorize video recording of DNA testing in capital murder case

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, at 2:48 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, July 18, 2014, at 10:40 a.m.

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A judge said Friday that he would not send a video camera into a DNA lab to record the testing of biological evidence in a capital murder case, but said he was leaning toward allowing a defense expert into the lab to monitor the tests.

District Judge Jeff Goering said he would make a final ruling on the matter in two weeks, and he gave prosecutors until then to gather evidence to show why a defense expert should not be allowed into the lab.

The testing issue arose in the case of the November shooting deaths of Melissa and Roger Bluml of Valley Center. Prosecutors have said in legal filings that their evidence includes firearms, cartridge casings and a purse. They said swabs from some of the items would be tested for DNA, but that the swabs would be consumed in the testing process.

“I do think that there is much to be said for having a defense expert in the lab watching the testing process when the sample will be consumed,” Goering said.

At an earlier hearing two weeks ago, prosecutors argued that allowing a camera or an expert into the lab would set a bad precedent and open the testing process to possible contamination.

Goering said Friday that he has concluded that videotaping the process was not a workable solution. But he also said that the argument that an outside expert has never before been allowed into the lab was unconvincing.

Defense lawyer Jeff Wicks said he recently discussed the issue with a DNA expert in Chicago who suggested that the process should be monitored at every step where the samples are handled by humans.

“They have done this in other locations, including the crime lab up in Chicago,” Wicks said.

District Attorney Marc Bennett said letting a defense expert into the lab would be a “remarkable leap into unprecedented territory.”

“It will be a precedent-setting event,” he said.

Goering said he would be less likely to allow a defense expert into the lab in a case where there is enough DNA to have it retested if the defense is not satisfied with the original results.

Among those charged in the case are the Blumls’ adopted son, Anthony Bluml, 18, and his biological mother, Kisha Schaberg, 35. Two of Anthony Bluml’s former Valley Center High School classmates, Andrew Ellington, 18, and Braden Smith, 19, also are charged in the case.

The preliminary hearing for all four suspects is scheduled for May 21.

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @hlaviana.

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