Senior Criminalist Brought to the Stand
By Samantha Brill
The morning of October 21, 2016, brought the resumption of the case of the People v. Darnell Dorsey, Judge Paul Richardson presiding. Pursuant to Cal. Penal Code sections 273a and 273ab, Mr. Dorsey is being charged with assaulting and causing fatal injury to his girlfriend’s 20-month-old child, Cameron Morrison, in January of 2014. Deputy Public Defenders Martha Sequeira and Joseph Gocke represent Darnell Dorsey, while Deputy District Attorney Mrs. Serafin represents the People.
Ms. Serafin asked Lillian Burt to come to the stand as one of the People’s last witnesses. Lillian Burt is a senior criminalist for the Sacramento Crime Lab and the Department of Justice, where she has been working for the past 12 years. Her job requires her to run tests looking for semen and/or blood stains on items pertaining to potential criminal cases.
The witness then explained that her department tests items for five different counties, and she has testified in six different cases involving her work in Yolo and Solano counties.
The People then began questioning Ms. Burt about her involvement in Cameron’s case. She explained that she received four items involving the case in question, a child’s long-sleeved shirt, an adult white t-shirt, a child’s Scooby Doo pajama top, and a pair of blue child’s sweatpants. All were received by her department on June 3, 2016, in individually-sealed packages after being delivered by the Davis Police Department.
Ms. Burt then explained how she ran her tests. She stated that she tested these items by looking for bloodstains, through the process of looking for the protein that is present in blood. She first looked for stains that she could see with the naked eye, which involved looking for stains with a brown, red or yellow color, and then she tested these stains.
The majority of these stains that were found on the adult white t-shirt tested positive for human blood, along with finding hair fibers on the inside and outside of the shirt. However, the hair fibers were never sent out for testing. After testing positive for blood, these items were sent out for DNA testing.
The long-sleeved child’s shirt was found to have no blood stains. However, the child’s sweat pants had numerous stains that did test positive for human blood, and were also sent out for DNA testing.
Mrs. Sequeira then took over the cross-examination for the defense by asking the witness to take out the large white men’s t-shirt and hold it up to point out the stains for the court to see. Ms. Burt explained to the court that most of the stains were very hard to see with the naked eye. Also was the fact that bloodstains could stay on an article of clothing for a very long time, sometimes even after being washed.
While looking at the adult white t-shirt, Ms. Burt pointed out seven main stains that tested positive for human blood. However, she could not tell how the stains got there from lack of training in that area. But she was able to explain that the larger stains were circular in shape and the small stains were irregular in shape.
Senior Criminalist Testifies about Bloody Tissues from Dorsey’s Home
By Mariel Barbadillo
The prosecution’s second witness of the day was Nathan Himes, a senior criminalist for the California Department of Justice Crime Laboratory in Sacramento. He was responsible for conducting deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analysis for the investigation of Cameron Morrison’s death.
Mr. Himes received nine tubes containing samples of cuttings and swabs from Lillian Burt, a fellow criminalist at the Department of Justice Crime Laboratory. There was also a reference sample of Cameron’s DNA.
From four cuttings of the white adult-size T-shirt, Mr. Hines found that the DNA in the red-brown stains was consistent with Cameron’s DNA profile.
Mr. Himes also tested four tissues and a baby wipe recovered from Mr. Dorsey’s home. The tissues appeared to have faint red-brown staining as well.
One tissue tested positive for a presumptive blood test, but further testing for human blood came back negative. Mr. Himes explained a negative result could mean no human blood is present, but it could also mean the amount of blood was too small to trace.
Another tissue, however, did test positive for human blood. DNA analysis confirmed the blood came from a single source: Cameron.
Two tissues exhibited a mixture of DNA from two individuals. A majority of the DNA belonged to one individual, that Mr. Himes described as the “major contributor,” but there was also a small amount of DNA from another human, the “minor contributor.”
Further testing confirmed the major contributor’s DNA on both tissues matched that of Cameron. The DNA of the minor contributors exhibited some differences, but there were enough similarities in the DNA profile for Mr. Himes to conclude that the minor contributor on both tissues could be the same person.
Lastly, Mr. Himes tested a baby wipe that also appeared to have bloodstains. The stains tested positive in a presumptive blood test, and DNA analysis confirmed the blood belonged to Cameron.
Compared to the tissues, Mr. Himes described the bloodstains on the baby wipe to be darker and “more robust,” as if the wipe had come in direct contact with the blood. There was also yellow staining and debris present on the baby wipe, but the witness said he was unable to make a determination as to their origins.
Mr. Himes observed that the bloodstains on the tissues did not appear “neat,” as one would expect from direct contact. However, he disclosed that it is beyond his area of expertise to determine how the blood came to be on the baby wipes and tissues.
Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira then cross-examined Mr. Himes on behalf of the defense. She asked when the Department of Justice Crime Lab received the tissues for testing. Mr. Himes answered September 27, 2016 – twenty-one days after the trial began.
Ms. Sequiera asked Mr. Himes if he was aware the tissues had been collected over two years ago. Mr. Himes admitted he did not know when the evidence was collected. The only information he had was that the tissues were recovered by the Davis Police Department.
Detective David Marshall, an investigator from the district attorney’s office, requested expedited testing of the tissues. The prosecution received the results fifteen days later, on October 11. Had the testing not been rushed, Mr. Himes said testing could have taken weeks or months to complete.
An investigator for the public defenders’ office also requested Mr. Himes to compare the DNA of two other individuals to the bloodstains on the tissues. However, the defense was told requests for testing had to be made by the district attorney’s office or the court and, at that point, the tests would have taken two to four weeks to complete.
The Department of Justice Crime Lab received a sample of Mr. Dorsey’s DNA on September 1, 2016. The sample was not tested and was later returned once the trial began. The lab received the tissues two weeks later, but did not re-request Mr. Dorsey’s DNA.
Had he still had Mr. Dorsey’s DNA sample, Mr. Himes said it would have been possible to determine if Mr. Dorsey was the minor contributor of DNA on the bloody tissues.
Ms. Sequeira asked if there is a way to determine what part of the body the blood came from. Mr. Himes said there is not, but it is possible that the blood on the baby wipe and tissues could be mixed with saliva, mucus from the nose, or other bodily fluids.
Mr. Himes said there are tests to determine if fecal matter is also present on the wipe or tissues, but he did not notice an odor, so he did not test for fecal matter.
During redirect examination, Mr. Himes said that, although there were no apparent signs of fecal matter, he was unable to rule out the possibility of fecal matter on the baby wipe. The stains did not appear to be linear, as if wiped, but there were yellow stains.
Once Mr. Himes concluded his testimony, the prosecution rested their case.
People Rest Their Case, Defense Begins Examinations
By Ryan Gonzales
As the prosecution rested, Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira continued the session with recalling Detective Joshua Helton for further examination, and calling DA Investigator, Detective David Marshall. The defense inquired about the investigatory actions of these individuals during the Darnell Dorsey trial.
“Did you do anything on August 25, 2016?” asked Ms. Sequeira to Detective Helton.
Det. Helton, who had been one of the investigating officers conducting a sweep of the residence of “VR” (the victim’s mother) on January 23, 2014, testified that he had authored a search warrant for a buccal swab at the Yolo County Jail for prisoner Darnell Dorsey.
“No it was not, it was done for the purpose of the investigation. I was asked by someone on the prosecution side to obtain that sample,” stated Det. Helton when asked if the warrant was an independent decision.
The defense questioned the reasoning of the warrant, and Detective Helton testified that additional information had emerged through witness testimony in the trial of Mr. Dorsey, thus he had reason to believe that a buccal swab was necessary.
However, when Ms. Sequeira inquired about what information led to probable cause for a warrant, Detective Helton replied, “I don’t remember.”
Asked when and who reviewed the warrant, Detective Helton testified that Deputy DA Michelle Serafin had reviewed it several days prior, but he had put the “finishing touches” on the warrant on August 25, 2016, and it was later authorized.
Ms. Sequeira asked again whose idea was it to issue the warrant on Darnell Dorsey, and the detective explained that it was someone on the prosecution team, but who it was he could not recall.
Due to the limited memory of the detective, Ms. Sequeira became agitated with the witness and stated, “So you don’t remember something that happen two months ago, but you testified on events that happened two years ago?”
Detective Helton responded, “I don’t know.”
Next, Ms. Sequeira asked if it was common not to notify the attorneys of a client when a warrant had been issued. Detective Helton testified that it’s not common, but he is not required to show the warrant to the attorneys. However, he later indicated that in his 10 years as a police officer, this was the first case in which this type of incident had occurred.
Along with obtaining a buccal swab, Det. Helton had been requested by the prosecution to listen to the jail phone calls of Darnell Dorsey, as well.
“Yes,” stated Detective Helton when asked if he remained impartial during the investigations of the phone calls.
However, Ms. Sequeira inquired if he took note of information that could benefit Mr. Dorsey. Detective Helton responded, “I didn’t listen to anything for good or bad.” Immediately, Ms. Sequeira questioned the purpose of the jail phone calls investigation. Det. Helton responded, “Based on past investigations, you are looking for statements or the talking of a person(s) that can clue in useful information on the investigation.”
Detective Helton was dismissed, subject to recall.
Ms. Sequeira began the examination of the final witness, District Attorney Investigator David Marshall. The defense questioned the investigator’s interviewing practices conducted on “BA,” the ex-girlfriend of Darnell Dorsey.
“Why did you tell the witness that they didn’t have to talk to the defense attorney?” asked Ms. Sequeira. Mr. Marshall testified that he wants witnesses to understand their rights. However, Ms. Sequeira inquired as to why Mr. Marshall waited to the end of BA’s interview to mention these rights. He responded, “So they are clear about it.”
“No,” stated Mr. Marshall to the question about whether he ever told witnesses of their rights in the beginning of the interview. When asked if it was a tactic they were taught, Mr. Marshall stated, “No, but it’s a common closure in most interviews.”
Therefore, Ms. Sequeira suggested that due to Mr. Marshall’s interview procedures, BA was involved in an emotional examination.
During the re-direct examination of the investigator, Deputy DA Serafin inquired about what was discussed during the interview of BA. Investigator Marshall stated that he explained the court process and asked BA to remain truthful during her testimony. Also, Mr. Marshall testified that BA was afraid of the court process and of recalling distressing memories.
However, Ms. Sequeira stated that such statements by Marshall are not located anywhere in the interview transcripts. Investigator Marshall responded, “Well it’s not in there, but it’s covered.”
In another undisclosed incident, Mr. Marshall testified that he met BA prior to her interview to advise her to show up to court. Ms. Sequeira inquired why it’s okay for him to “badger” people to show up to court. Mr. Marshall stated, “My job is to help people come to court.”
Ms. Sequeira asked Mr. Marshall to recall any time that he had helped the defense get a witness to court. Mr. Marshall stated, “With all due respect, I don’t work for you.”
Ms. Sequeira retorted, “Exactly, you are working for the prosecution.”
On October 24, 2016, the defense will begin their direct examination of witnesses, starting with Darnell Dorsey.