Monday, July 13, 2020

Crime Scene Investigator: ‘I’m not an expert’

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Michael Whyte
Crime Scene Officer and Fingerprint Expert with over 7 years experience in Crime Scene Investigation and Latent Print Analysis. The opinions or assertions contained on this site are the private views of the author and are not to be construed as those of any professional organisation or policing body.
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The prosecution wrapped up its case Friday in the first-degree murder trial of Seth Fontenot and the defense team called its first witness, an expert in guns, ammunition and crime scene re-creation.

Seth Fontenot

Fontenot, 20, faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of 15-year-old Austin Rivault and the shooting of Cole Kelley and William Bellamy, both 15 on Feb. 10, 2013.

Fontenot admitted he fired three shots at a truck in front of his Lafayette house after he heard someone pulling on the handles of his truck, which had been burglarized three times.

Much of the testimony Friday focused on forensics, including DNA evidence and ballistics.

Dave Thomas, who was with the Lafayette Police Department’s Metro Crime Unit in 2013, testified for the prosecution that he preserved evidence in the truck the boys were in when they were shot and in front of Fontenot’s house on Green Meadow Road, where the shooting occurred.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Katherine Guillot, Thomas said he did not measure the bullet hole dimensions in the truck, did not measure the angle of the bullet as it entered the truck door, and did not measure the distance from the bullet holes to the front, back, top and bottom of the truck, all of which play a role in determining the angle and distance from which the shots were fired.

“I’m not an expert,” Thomas said. “Mainly, I’m just there to pick the evidence up.”

Bullet jackets from the crime scene were matched with Fontenot’s gun, said Mark Kurowski, a forensic chemist with the Acadiana Crime Lab. He also testified that when a bullet enters a car door at a 90 degree angle, the hole should be a near-perfect circle. A photo of the bullet hole showed that it was elliptical, which made it look like the bullet was shot from the back of the vehicle toward the front.

Assistant District Attorney J.N. Prather Jr. questioned how the bullet hit the door if the shooter were behind the truck aiming for the tailgate.

Kurowski responded, “That doesn’t make sense.”

Fontenot repeatedly told police he was shooting at the truck’s tailgate, not at the occupants. Prather tried to show Fontenot was aiming at the people in the truck, not the tailgate.

Richard Ernest, a forensic ballistics expert with Alliance Forensics, was the first witness called by Fontenot’s defense team. Based on photos of the bullet hole in the driver’s side door, Ernest concluded the shot was not fired at a 90-degree angle, but more like a 35-degree angle from behind the truck.

Ernest said accuracy drops with distance and any slight movement of the gun becomes a large movement at the target. Moving the gun one-eighth of an inch while firing at a target 50 feet away would result in a 1-foot difference at the target, he said.

“Darkness, a quickly moving vehicle and (the shooter) on the move … all of that makes for some major inaccuracies,” Ernest said.

Prather and Ernest verbally jousted over the expert’s use of a formula and possible distance of the shooter and the speed of the truck. Prather showed him a photo of the truck and asked him about Fontenot’s ability to shoot the tailgate if the truck were traveling 10 mph based on the height of the tailgate.

“I don’t know. Give me the measurements from your crime scene guy,” Ernest said, taking a jab at Thomas’ lack of measurements.

Fontenot and Kelley said in statements that Fontenot was standing between 5 feet and 10 feet from the truck when he fired the first shot into the door.

Prather said the first shot was at about 6 feet away, the second at another 14 feet away. The tailgate of the truck is a big enough target that the shooter would have hit it had that been his actual target, Prather said.

“I’m not behind the tailgate,” Ernest said. “Obviously, from the first shot, I’m way over to the side.”

Prather said Ernest was making a lot of assumptions to create his scenario.

No fingerprints or DNA results support Fontenot’s claim that the boys were pulling on the door handles of his truck.

Bethany Harris, a DNA analyst with the Acadiana Crime Lab in New Iberia, testified that DNA swabbed from three of the door handles on Fontenot’s truck excluded Rivault, Kelley and Bellamy.

DNA collected from the rear passenger door was “too incomplete” to draw conclusions, Harris said.

Two or three other vehicles were parked at the Fontenot home the night of the shooting, but the crime scene officer said he did not take DNA swabs on those vehicles.

Detective Jason Migues of the Lafayette Police Department, took a statement from Fontenot in April 2013 at Guilbeau’s office for an investigation into the string of truck burglaries and attempted burglaries of his truck.

Guilbeau said without the homicide, if Migues were armed with the facts provided regarding the attempted truck burglary — the sound of door handles popping, Fontenot seeing a couple of figures running and describing their clothes, which matched what Rivault and Bellamy were wearing — the juveniles would have been charged.

Not based just on what one person said, Migues answered.

“I didn’t find probable cause,” he said.

Migues and another detective interviewed Kelley at length the day after the shooting, trying to pressure the teen by saying they had a witness who saw the boys try to break into Fontenot’s truck when they didn’t have a witness, he said.

“He denied ever getting out of the vehicle,” Migues said.

Detectives told Kelley the bullet that killed Rivault was meant for him, he said.

“We said a lot of things to try to break him,” Migues said. “He stayed true to his story.”

The trial continues at 10:45 a.m. Monday. Fifteenth Judicial District Judge Edward Rubin told jurors he expects testimony to conclude Tuesday.

Source: The Advertiser

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