Investigator Calls Gun Evidence in 46-Year-Old Case ‘Dark and Troubling’

Attorney Tony Serra confers with Stankewitz in February 2023

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Fresno, CA – It was like something out of a Hollywood script, a veteran investigator, with nearly 2000 cases under his belt since he retired as an LA Sheriff in 1993, described in meticulous detail problems with the handling of the murder investigation and expressed “grave doubts” as to whether the weapon in custody since 1978 is in fact the murder weapon.

For the next two weeks, attorneys for Douglas “Chief” Stankewitz will be putting on evidence in hopes that Judge Arlan Harrell will grant a new trial to Stankewitz, who has been in prison since 1978.

Judge Harrell was adamant.  He didn’t want to hear arguments.  He wanted to hear the evidence.

Roger Clark testified that he has worked on this case since 2018, and he has serious issues with the “chain of custody,” which he said “was not maintained as it should be.”

The chain of custody is what allows law enforcement and prosecutors to demonstrate that evidence presented in court was the same evidence as that collected at the crime scene.

But from the start when inspecting the weapon in custody he noted irregularities were “apparent.”

The first issue regards the serial number for the weapon in custody.  In the early reports, it was noted that the gun has the  “serial number removed.”  Yet when Clark examined the weapon, he said he clearly saw a serial number—albeit with a scratch through it but he maintained that the serial number was clearly readable.

The reports were typed and then the serial number was later handwritten in with no correction or update noted.  Clark testified that if they later determined the serial number was readable there should have been a supplemental report.

He argued that this is “consistent with tampering.”

A second issue is that of the holster.  He noted that the holster recovered had markings with the initials of the initial investigator and the dates differ by five years from homicide.  The date marked in was 1973 but the homicide occurred in 1978.

Moreover, he testified that CLETS search on the weapon also dates back to 1973, “Sacramento reported Stolen – 6-7-73.”

A third point raised was the connection between this weapon and a robbery and shooting that took place around the same time.

According to Curtis Briggs, representing Stankewitz, the prosecution theory at the time was that the gun not only killed the victim in this case, but was used in a robbery and attempted murder in another case.

While that evidence was not used in the guilt phase of the Stankewitz case, it was used to prove special circumstances needed to get Stankewitz the death penalty.

The DA, Elana Smith, objected on the basis of relevance; moreover, she argued—probably ironically—that this evidence suffers from unreliable chain of custody issues.

Judge Harrell allowed the questioning for the limited purpose of overall evidence of how evidence was handled in this case.

Clark testified that the two casings were not from the same caliber weapon.  The murder weapon was a .22 while the shell casing found here were from a .25.

“This cannot be an erroneous identification,” Clark testified, saying the two weapons cannot be mistaken for each other.  A 22 caliber weapon, he explained, is a unique, rim fired projectile, while a .25 is a center fired.

Briggs illustrated that by showing images of the two weapons.

Clark called this “unacceptable.”

Moreover, he argued, “You should never take evidence from one crime scene and claim it’s from another.”

He argued that the “whole chain of evidence is contaminated.”

Under cross-examination, Deputy DA Smith first tried to attack the credibility of Clark by asking how much he had received.

“Not a cent,” he said, explaining that he wanted to be completely transparent.  He was to provide a full independent look at the evidence.

He concluded that the evidence was “planted” or, more accurately, “tinkered” with, and at best, “Far below professional standards.”

She asked in his nearly 2000 cases, how many cases did he conclude there was planted evidence.

“Very few,” he testified noting only in a couple of cases, including some Innocence Project cases, did he have a “high level of confidence of planted evidence.”

Then the issue turned to the serial number.

The DA pointed out there were scratches through the number.

“I don’t think you can misread it,” he said.  He added, “That’s not a removed serial number.”

When pressed, he added, “Serial number scratched or degraded, but not ‘removed.’”

Then the bizarre exchange.

“Do you wear glasses?” she asked.

He said, “Yes,” holding his up.

“Are they special glasses?”

“They’re just regular reading glasses,” he said.  “I can read it clearly with regular glasses.”

Smith then argued, “You don’t know what’s in his mind,” she said, suggesting that perhaps the investigator couldn’t read it or made an honest mistake.

She questioned whether the holster and gun went together.

Clark responded, “It’s more likely than not that the gun and holster go together.”

He called the evidence of tampering here, “dark and troubling.”

Clark will return to the stand for a second day of testimony.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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