Crime & Courts

Scientist: 1977 prints can't be tested for DNA

Fingerprints taken from the crime scene of a 1977 Wichita murder can't be tested for DNA, a forensic scientist told a judge Friday afternoon.

Shelly Steadman, DNA analyst for the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center, testified that any trace biological material found on the fingerprint cards would not provide scientifically viable test results.

Based on Steadman's testimony, Sedgwick County Judge Jeff Goering overruled a request by Merrill Andrews to have the fingerprint cards tested in an attempt to prove his innocence.

Andrews has always maintained he did not kill Nola Babb, 91. The retired businesswoman was beaten in her home in the 3300 block of East 14th Street on Oct. 12, 1977.

The fingerprint cards are the only physical evidence left in the case. Wichita police say all other evidence was destroyed under a court order in 1981.

Andrews requested the testing under a 2001 law granting people serving prison sentences for murder and rape the right to have evidence tested using DNA technology, which may have not existed when they were convicted.

Prosecutors at trial based their case on the testimony of an informant who accused Andrews of being one of three men who broke into Babb's home. Friends of the informant, who has since died of natural causes, later said he lied.

Wichita lawyer Carl Maughan, who represents Andrews and asked that the cards with the four fingerprints be tested for DNA, said the fingerprints aren't his client's. They have never been matched to anyone.

Steadman said she spent weeks looking at possible ways to test the fingerprint cards, but said any biological evidence would be so small the results would be unreliable.

"Where's the harm?" Maughan said.

Prosecutor Marc Bennett said the harm would come by allowing others to request testing of any evidence, no matter if it would provide reliable results.

Andrews, 53, was paroled from his life sentence in 1999 after spending 22 years in prison. He adopted the name Kamanda Kamangeni and built a reputation after his release as a mentor for at-risk youth in Wichita.

But on May 16, 2002, he was arrested for robbing the Credit Union of America at 212 S. Ridge Road, following a chase that ended when he crashed his car in downtown Wichita.

Andrews pleaded guilty to robbery in federal court, saying he was unable to find a full-time job and had financial problems. Andrews spent eight years in federal prison before being released in March.

He returned to the Kansas prison system on a parole violation and is now at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility. He will be eligible for state parole again in 2013.

In Friday's ruling, Goering ordered the protection of the fingerprint cards and left the option open for Maughan to produce an expert or lab that could do such testing.

"It's not over," said Laquita Fulbright, Andrews' sister. "We will be back in court."