Judge says defense expert can monitor DNA testing in capital murder case

02/28/2014 4:30 PM

08/08/2014 10:22 AM

A Sedgwick County judge ruled Friday that defense lawyers will be allowed to send their own expert into a DNA lab to monitor the testing of biological evidence in a capital murder case.

“Other than logistical problems that may be created, I don’t see any other reason why we shouldn’t allow it,” District Judge Jeff Goering said in his ruling.

Goering asked the lawyers in the case to try to establish guidelines for the expert to monitor the testing of evidence collected in the investigation of the shooting deaths of Melissa and Roger Bluml of Valley Center.

The Blumls, who were both shot in the head, were found critically wounded outside their home on Nov. 15 after an apparent robbery. Melissa Bluml, 53, died the next day, and Roger Bluml, 48, died about five weeks later.

Charged in the case are the Blumls’ adopted son, Anthony Bluml, 19, 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. They are each being held in the Sedgwick County Jail on $2 million bond.

Among the evidence collected are firearms, cartridge casings and a purse. When prosecutors said DNA swabs taken from those items would be consumed in the testing process, defense lawyers asked that they be allowed to send an expert into the lab to monitor the process.

Prosecutors objected to the request, arguing that allowing an outsider into the lab would set a bad precedent and violate the protocol of the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center, where the tests are performed.

Goering’s ruling came after the defense expert, Stephanie Beine of Genetic Technologies Inc. of suburban St. Louis, testified via Skype that she had been asked to observe DNA testing 50 to 75 times by other scientists.

As an observer, Beine said, she does not take an active role in the testing. But she said she twice has spoken up when she noticed a tester doing something improper. She recalled one time where a tester stopped to take a phone call, then returned to the testing without changing gloves.

“We’re there simply to observe; they’re the ones doing the testing,” she said. But “we would never just sit by and watch a mistake happen.”

Although no timetable for the the testing has been set, it must be completed before the preliminary hearing in the case, which is set for May 21.

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