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Brown's defense witness: Luna's confession flawed; DNA unreliable
What's new: Defense witnesses testify Juan Luna's confession had errors and the DNA link is unreliable. What's next: More defense witnesses.
By Joseph Ryan and Stacy St. Clair | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/1/2007

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Juan Luna's defense took steps Tuesday to undermine key evidence, including the crucial DNA link, in the state's case that the Carpentersville man killed seven people in the Palatine Brown's Chicken and Pasta murders 14 years ago.

DNA expert Karl Reich of the lab, Independent Forensics of Illinois, told jurors DNA found on chicken bones at the crime scene can not be scientifically matched to Luna because of mishandling and inadequate testing.

"You have to handle (the evidence) properly in order to get the right results ... in order to have faith in those results," Reich said.

On Monday, a bird expert testified he handled chicken bones from the crime scene without gloves in 1995 and that he picked meat off the pieces as part of the investigation. The state also lost the original DNA swabs from the bones, which prosecutors say were part of the last meal ordered in the restaurant the night of the murders, Jan. 8, 1993.

In 2002, after Luna and his alleged accomplice Jim Degorski were charged in the Chicago suburbs' biggest mass murder, those chicken bones were tied to Luna through DNA. A napkin found next to the bones in a near-empty trash can also contained a partial palm print prosecutors and their experts contend matches Luna.

The DNA match investigators made was based on nine individual points, but Reich said a 13-point match would have been more thorough. He said as many as 1 million people in the U.S. could match those same nine points.

The chicken bones didn't have enough DNA, presumably from saliva, to get a 13-point match.

The defense also raised issues about Luna's 2002 confession and the testimony of witnesses who say he excitedly detailed the crime to them back in 1993.

In both instances, Luna is said to have described cutting owner Lynn Ehlenfeldt's throat after she opened the safe. But forensic pathologist Malcolm Goodwin, told the jury that the 5-inch-long and ½-inch deep cut was made after a fatal gunshot wound to the head, contradicting the confession and witnesses.

The defense says the palm print evidence is trumped up and that Luna's videotapped confession was coerced after 19 hours of interrogation. They also point to another man who has confessed to the crime, though police have discredited that person as a suspect.

Luna and Degorski are being tried separately and both could face the death penalty if convicted. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Authorities say the two high school friends plotted the killing spree and got away with it by intimidating a few friends who were told about the ruthless slayings. Luna previously had worked at the Palatine Brown's Chicken and floated under the radar of investigators for years despite two routine interviews.

The prosecution went on the attack Monday against the defense's DNA expert, pointing out his firm was paid more than $100,000 for its work. They also pulled out internal rules from the lab that they argued contradicted the standards Reich put on Luna's DNA match.

The prosecution says the testimony of Goodwin is unreliable because he didn't actually see the bodies, only photographs. Another pathologist has testified that the cut to Ehlenfeldt's throat had to have come before she was shot in the back of the head. Her body was found in a walk-in freezer next to four others in the early morning by a Palatine officer responding to the concerned parents of one of the workers.

Those shot to death at the restaurant that night were owners, Lynn and Richard Ehlenfeldt, and workers Thomas Mennes, Marcus Nellsen, Guadalupe Maldonado, Michael Castro and Rico Solis.

sstclair@dailyherald.com

jryan@dailyherald.com