By Sumip Mehta and Alexandra Quilici
The questioning of key witnesses in the burglary trial against Joseph Kaleimanu Hernandez, Rakhem Romel Bradford, and Joshua Anthony Givens resumed on Thursday morning at Yolo County Superior Court in Woodland.
Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin began the questioning this morning, calling her first witness, Officer Mathew Muscardini of the Davis Police Department. Muscardini, a patrol officer, along with Officer Kim Walker, were the first responders to 1517 Drake Drive in Davis. Deputy DA Serafin opened with questions regarding a burglary at the residence. According to the witness, he responded to the call after the burglary was reported by the victims. He had to gone to 1517 Drake Dr. in an investigative, non-emergency capacity. The deputy DA questioned the officer’s approach to the scene. He in turn testified that 1517 Drake Dr. was secluded from other homes in the surrounding area, and he had approached the location from the eastern end of Drake, heading north from Orange Lane via Radcliffe Drive to Apple Lane, which then becomes Drake Dr. Once at the scene, Officer Muscardini reported that he entered the residence at 1571 Drake, taking down victim testimonies as well as noting what was stolen from the premises. Ms. Serafin proceeded to question the officer about whether he had spoken to anyone else in the area. The officer responded that he had spoken to a neighbor of the victim who resides at 1519 Drake Dr. According to the officer, the neighbor reported that he had seen an unusual pickup matching the suspects’ near the vicinity of Villanova Drive (south off Sycamore Lane from the burglary scene) during the hours of the burglary. This was further corroborated by another witness who, the officer stated, “had seen the men rob the unit.” The defense followed the People, asking Officer Muscardini whether or not any of the witnesses were able to discern if any of the perpetrators were of Middle Eastern or Latino descent. The officer replied in the negative.
Following Officer Muscardini, Officer John Renger was called by the People. Officer Renger, new to the Davis force, was questioned by the People regarding burglaries at 753 Anderson Road and 611 Russell Boulevard. Officer Renger informed the jury that he was called to scenes in an investigative, non-emergency capacity for both burglaries. When asked about the property at 611 Russell Blvd., Officer Renger recalled that he did not document the scene well due to a shortage of memory cards to take photos of the scene. However, when questioned by the People for the property located at 753 Anderson Rd., Officer Renger recalled that he was able to retrieve a latent print with his forensic field kit, along with the stolen MacBook that was retrieved during an executed search warrant. The defense had no questions for Officer Renger. The dismissal of the officer led to a brief recess, after which the People introduced another witness.
The People called Police Service Specialist Mario Alfaro, of the Davis Police Department, to the stand. The witness, who was deemed an expert in forensic science due to his extensive work in cases involving fingerprints, was asked by the People to define the procedures and types of fingerprints. Answering the People’s questions, Mario Alfaro defined latent prints as impressions that are produced by friction ridges. Furthermore, he described the three types of markers on fingerprints as loops, whirls and arches. Of the three marks, Alfaro described loops as the most common. The people asked Alfaro to further clarify the procedure in identifying a latent print. Alfaro remarked that in order to identify a latent print and have it be viable, the print must fit the eight-mark match. When the People introduced evidence pertaining to the case, Alfaro stated that all of the evidence presented was unsuitable for comparison.
Some fingerprints cannot conclusively be tied back to accused, and Chevron employee provides no new insight
By Alexandra Quilici
The afternoon court session resumed with the continued questioning of Mario Alfaro, a professional in fingerprint analysis.
The defense counsels were particular in trying to assert that fingerprints are not always correct or definitive. In order to clarify this, Mr. Alfaro made note that in our population, 60 percent of people have loop-shaped fingerprints, 35 percent have whorl-shaped, and 5 percent have arch-shaped.
Since they uncovered a large amount of loop-shaped fingerprints, it is hard to pinpoint exactly one person due to most of the population having this shape.
Mr. Alfaro continued to note that the quality of the fingerprint relies on the imprint left behind. People with more oil on their hands leave heavier imprints. He explained that powder had to be used for the fingerprints relating to this case.
Powder allows for the fingerprints to be lifted. For Davis, the police are given the power to lift the fingerprints at the scene themselves.
Mr. Givens’ defense lawyer, James Granucci, then asked Mr. Alfaro if the prints they found at a particular house, 1112 Chestnut Lane, could be tied back to Mr. Givens. Mr. Alfaro said there was no connection and it was not his print.
Throughout the scenes of the crimes, Mr. Alfaro never sent the fingerprints for DNA samples.
Mr. Bradford’s defense lawyer, Ava Landers, noted that even though the fingerprints found “can’t exclude” Mr. Bradford to the scene of the crime, it does not mean that they are his. As established earlier, since it was the “loop” fingerprint shape, the commonness of that fingerprint means it could be practically anyone (homeowners, friends, whoever visited).
Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin then asked how often the powder from the fingerprints was viable to use. Mr. Alfaro estimated that seven out of ten were usually “very good,” which is a big improvement from years past.
Mr. Alfaro contributed some of this improvement to the fact that Davis police, who have the clearance to obtain the fingerprints, are coming to this force with prior knowledge on how to do it. He said that his training of officers is a lot of a “refresher” now, instead of teaching someone completely how to do it.
Mr. Alfaro was then dismissed for the day and a new witness was called.
This new witness was a manager at a Chevron gas station. Ms. Serafin had questions regarding if he recalled a police officer coming in and asking for a particular receipt that amounted to a little over $54.77 on September 26, 2013.
The witness said that police officers come in every day to the gas station, ask for receipts all the time, and he could not recall this particular instance she was specifying.
He could also not recall showing the police officer the surveillance camera videos during a stop by on September 26, 2013, insisting again that they do this all the time.
Ms. Serafin then showed the receipt she was referencing to the witness. He could not confidently say that the receipt was from his gas station, as the transaction did not have an address or a facility number on it.
He stressed that all receipts printed from his Chevron should have the address, tracking number, and a greeting somewhere on the receipt – all of which were missing from the evidence shown to him.
He was then shown pictures of the outside of a store, and he could not definitively say they were pictures of the gas station he worked at.
Seemingly exasperated, the deputy DA then asked the witness if he even wanted to testify in court today. He said no and affirmed he did not want to be there.
He said he felt frustrated as it was the fourth time he had been brought into court, and that it was hard to wait around during the day for this.
The defense counsel then asked if, at any point throughout this whole process, he ever remembered giving the receipt or camera footage to the police regarding this case. He said no.
Ms. Landers then asked if other people would wear his name tag at the Chevron. The witness said yes, if another employee forgot their name tag they would put on a spare tag that read his name.
No further questions were had for the man, and court was then dismissed an hour earlier than usual.
Court is set to resume on Friday, followed by a weeklong break in the trial.