Lost then Found

In case you think that “lost” evidence can’t miraculously turn up elsewhere, take a few minutes to read the following news stories.

Belmont County Cold Case File Heats Up
November 12, 2007
Story by D.K. WrightWTRF-TV, Wheeling, W.Va.

A man left home one evening, joking to his family that he had a hot date. He was never seen again.

It happened 25 years ago in Belmont County, Ohio.

Now this cold case is heating up.

The case file on the Leon Moncer disappearance was lost years ago during a previous sheriff’s administration.

But after an intensive search of a storage building, the file was found last week.

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Murder trial told of ‘lucky’ swab find that reopened case
John Robertson, The Scotsman

A DETECTIVE told a jury yesterday of an “incredibly lucky” find during a cold-case review of a 1980 murder.

Ian Kennedy had been checking to see whether evidence gathered at the time of Elizabeth McCabe’s death was still in storage and discovered that a swab had gone missing. However, it was traced after a chance conversation with a colleague and later sent for DNA testing at a specialist laboratory in England…

Mr Kennedy said he learned that the productions from the McCabe and the Lannen cases were stored in boxes in a room in the cells area at police headquarters in Dundee.
He said items found to be missing included Ms McCabe’s pants and tights… Another item was an intimate swab taken from her body at the post-mortem examination.

Referring to a swab shown to him in court, Mr Kennedy said: “In a chance conversation with a colleague, he recalled putting them [swabs] in a large cabinet and myself and another member of staff went down there and, by sheer fortune, the second folder we took out contained this. It was incredibly lucky.”

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Detailed evidence search is called for in DNA-linked appeal,
judges rule exhaustive effort must be made before declaring it lost

By Alia Malik
Baltimore Sun reporter
August 2, 2007

Maryland’s highest court yesterday demanded that police and prosecutors conduct thorough searches before declaring trial evidence to be permanently missing – checking storage rooms, offices and even judges’ chambers if necessary.

The unanimous ruling by the Court of Appeals involved a request for DNA testing of bloody clothing from a man convicted 33 years ago of killing his ex-boss in Baltimore, and it comes after the disclosure of other recent problems with the Police Department’s storage of crime evidence.

A city Circuit Court judge had dismissed the request after a city police sergeant submitted an affidavit declaring that he had checked the department evidence records and found no mention of the old clothing.”

The Circuit Court erred in dismissing his petition for testing based on [the police sergeant’s] representation that, because he checked the [Evidence Control Unit’s] database and forms on file, it was reasonable to conclude that the evidence no longer exists. Searching the ECU alone was insufficient,” Judge Irma S. Raker wrote on behalf of the court.”Because the State was the custodian of the evidence, the State needs to check any place the evidence could reasonably be found, unless there is a written record that the evidence had been destroyed in accordance with then existing protocol,” Raker concluded.

A spokeswoman for the city state’s attorney’s office said yesterday that, based on the ruling, one prosecutor in the office will now be charged with ensuring that all possible storage locations are searched in this case and for every future request for post-conviction DNA testing….

Though yesterday’s decision does not guarantee that the evidence from the 1974 trial will be found, public defender John Kopolow said he was pleased with the decision on behalf of his client, Arey.

“It may be surprising that the evidence was kept there, and it’s a long time after that, but I think definitely the search has to be made,” he said. “I think it will help the state to recognize that these petitions have to be taken seriously and that a serious search must be done for the evidence before they can conclude that the evidence does not exist.”…

The court said that all “most likely locations” should be searched for evidence in any case, possibly including hospitals, court evidence rooms, and prosecutors’ offices. If relevant, searchers should check with defense investigators, court clerks and court reporters, the ruling said – noting that one man sentenced to life in prison was later exonerated based on evidence found tucked away in a judge’s chambers.

In Arey’s 1974 trial, a city police detective testified that Arey’s bloodied clothes were kept in the Police Department’s “property room” before being tested at an unspecified crime laboratory. During the trial, the clothes were “locked up in the judge’s chambers,” the detective testified.
…The clothes could have been damaged when Hurricane Isabel flooded the property room in 2003, or they could have been destroyed without documentation, the spokesman said.”

“You’re talking about a case from 1974, for all we know it was destroyed in 1979,” he said.

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Potential problems found in police storage of drugs
By Suzanne Smalley and Tracy Jan,
Boston Globe October 8, 2006

Some of the drugs seized by Boston police are not where they should be in the department’s central drug depository, where evidence such as cocaine, OxyContin and marijuana is stored, the acting police commissioner, Albert Goslin, said yesterday.

The disarray of the drug depository, discovered during a police audit, has prompted concern among officials, but Goslin said it’s too early to determine whether evidence is missing, because the audit is not complete. He did not indicate the amount or types of drugs that have not been found.

Goslin said the disorganization in the drug warehouse concerns him because of the possibility that drug evidence could be missing, but at this point, nothing points to police corruption. “It’s a lot of stuff and a major burden on us,” he said. “It’s contraband. It’s illegal. If the audit doesn’t go the way it should go, then we’ll look into it.”

Three officers have spent the past six weeks combing through drug evidence from 190,000 cases, some dating back more than 20 years, because the department is modernizing the tightly controlled facility, Goslin said. The department wants to find an easier way to track the evidence; officers are moving the drugs to a different part of the building.

Some evidence that auditors had initially thought was missing was found elsewhere in the Hyde Park depository. “They’d find things that were supposed to be in one place and would be three bins over,” Goslin said. “It’s a huge nightmare and problem . . . I haven’t found stuff missing but at this point, I can’t say.”

The site of the evidence and where the drugs were supposed to be according to a log book sometimes do not match, Goslin said.

According to Boston Police Department rules, drugs, upon seizure, are temporarily stored in a safe at the district station before going to a central drug depository

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Missing evidence found in 1996 murder case
By Natalie Morales
Dayton Daily News
February 06, 2007

Clark County (Ohio) Clerk of Courts Ron Vincent almost didn’t believe staff members who told him they found the missing evidence from the 1996 murder case of death row inmate Timothy Coleman.

A federal judge granted a September request by Coleman’s attorney, Kelly Culshaw, to have independent DNA testing done on some evidence.

Murder victim Melinda Stevens’ shorts and underwear were requested from the local clerk’s office. Friday, Vincent said all of the woman’s clothing was missing from the evidence box.

The clerk’s plans to continue “digging around” for the missing clothing worked out Monday when staffers found a bag containing the clothes on the opposite side of the room from the evidence box, Vincent said.

Vincent attributed the misplaced items to the commotion in the office during an Aug. 22 flood that started in the courthouse’s third-floor law library and drained into the second-floor clerk’s office.

“Evidently it got pulled out of the box when things were being moved around,” Vincent said.
Monday, Vincent said he was relieved to have found the clothing and he notified the state attorney general’s office, the public defender’s office and Culshaw.


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New Evidence Furor Hits HPD
Mislabeled boxes may be final straw for full-scale probe
By Roma Khanna
August 27, 2004

The Houston Police Department has discovered evidence from thousands of cases that was improperly tagged and lost in its property room, Chief Harold Hurtt said Thursday, suggesting that problems with handling evidence may go back 25 years.

The evidence was contained in 280 mislabeled boxes that were found in the department’s property room last August. But the boxes sat unopened for a year, even as an ongoing Harris County District Attorney’s Office effort to retest DNA from 379 cases stalled because of missing evidence in 20 cases.

Investigators began opening the boxes last week and found an array of evidence that ranged from a fetus and human body parts to clothes and a bag of Cheetos.

The boxes were labeled with the numbers of individual cases. Now, HPD officials said, it appears that evidence from as many as 8,000 cases, from 1979 to 1991, was packed into the 280 cartons.

The discovery of the forgotten boxes of evidence comes as questions about the analysis in a 1987 rape case have widened doubts about the quality of the crime lab’s work.
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