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Scientist didn't wear gloves
Defense tries to cast doubt on integrity of Brown's evidence
By Stacy St. Clair | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/1/2007

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What's new: A bird expert acknowledges he handled key evidence without using gloves.

What's next: More defense witnesses.

A bird expert testified Monday that he handled key pieces of evidence from the Brown's Chicken murders without gloves -- an admission that bolsters defense claims of an error-prone investigation.

Field Museum scientist David Willard told the jury Palatine police asked him to look at several chicken parts in 1995 so they could determine the number of pieces found in a garbage can inside the Palatine restaurant.

Willard, collection manager for the museum's bird division, said he removed the pieces from the trash bag without using gloves. He also did not use a mask or any other protective coverings during the examination, he said.

Additionally, he said he does not recall Palatine police Sgt. Bill King wearing gloves or a mask while handling the chicken that day.

Scientists were permitted to pick meat off the bones to more readily identify them, Willard testified. He did not say what he did with the meat after he removed it.

The chicken, which prosecutors say is the final meal served before the bloodiest crime in suburban Chicago history, has played a critical role in the 14-year-old case. DNA on the half-eaten pieces has been matched to Juan Luna, one of two men charged with killing seven people inside the Palatine restaurant on Jan. 8, 1993.

A second person's DNA also was found on a bone, but authorities don't know to whom it belongs. Willard and another Field Museum scientist provided samples, but they both were ruled out as the source of the other DNA found on the bone.

If Luna's attorneys can convince the jury that the DNA evidence was compromised, it could raise doubts about the strongest physical link between Luna and the crime scene. Authorities also have connected Luna to the crime scene via a partial palm print left on a discarded napkin.

Prosecutors allege Luna, now 34, and his high school pal Jim Degorski fatally shot seven people -- Lynn Ehlenfeldt, Richard Ehlenfeldt, Thomas Mennes, Marcus Nellsen, Guadalupe Maldonado, Michael Castro and Rico Solis -- at the restaurant in a quest to do something big. The men, who are being tried separately, have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, both could face the death penalty.

From its inception, the Brown's investigation has been plagued by accusations of police errors. Several mistakes have been highlighted during the trial, including lost evidence and the absence of important handprints.

On Wednesday, the defense focused on the barehanded handling of the chicken in 1995, roughly three years before forensic scientists found the two DNA profiles on half-eaten bones.

The examination by Field Museum experts was conducted on a table where other bird carcasses and feathers are examined and prepared for shipment to other museums. The area typically is closed to the public, but school groups and other visitors frequently are allowed inside, Willard said.

"It's a place you would need some authorization," he said.

Willard said he identified each bone, but he did not have enough information about the restaurant's practices to say how many pieces were in the meal. He did not write a report about his findings, he testified.

In other testimony Monday, a crime scene expert told the jury that Luna's size-10 feet could not have made two footprints found at the scene. One print was discovered on a coupon in the kitchen, while the other was found in a bloody area near the freezer that contained five of the victims.

Police witnesses have said one print -- which came from either a size 9 men's or a 7.5 women's Reebok shoe -- was not there when they first entered the crime scene and went undetected for nearly a week. They hypothesize the print was made by a law-enforcement official at the scene, though they never have been able to match it to anyone involved in the investigation.

The other shoe print, found on the coupon, came from a man's Nike Air Force Ultra, ranging in size from 12.5 to 14, crime scene expert John Cayton testified for the defense. Though it does not match Luna, Cayton could not rule out a match to Degorski.

Degorski typically wears a size 11, Cayton testified, though Nike shoes typically run smaller. It's possible Degorski could have been wearing a size 12.5, Cayton testified.

"I think we've all worn a shoe size that's larger than one we normally wear," he said.

In a statement to police made shortly after his May 2002 arrest, Luna said both he and Degorski wore Nike shoes during the killings.

Luna's attorneys will continue calling witnesses today. It's possible the defense could wrap up its case as early as Wednesday.