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Brown's testimony focuses on DNA find
By Stacy St. Clair | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/16/2007

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The evidence that links Juan Luna to the 1993 Brown's Chicken slayings sat frozen in a crime lab freezer for a year before investigators realized it could yield clues in the case, a laboratory scientist testified today.

Under questioning of prosecutors in the first full day of tesimony, Jane Homeyer, a Northern Illinois Police Crime Laboratory specialist, described the process involved in preserving a piece of chicken that would later be found to contain Luna's DNA.

Homeyer said she removed a four-piece chicken dinner and other food items from the trash bin on Jan. 11, 1993, three days after seven people were killed at the Brown's Chicken & Pasta restaurant in Palatine. In addition to the chicken, she said she removed french fries, coleslaw, two biscuits and two containers of honey dipping sauce.

Uncertain of what value the items might have, Homeyer said she labeled them and put them in a freezer at the Northern Illinois Crime Laboratory in Highland Park. In 1994, she said, she contacted noted forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee, who has worked on such high-profile investigations as the O.J. Simpson and the Jon Benet Ramsey cases, and asked him to review the case, looking for anything other investigators may have missed.

After discussing the evidence, they decided "we should send the food items out for DNA testing," Homeyer testified. She said the chicken and a coffee stirrer were tested.

She said investigators also found a partial left palm print on a napkin at the restaurant, but were unable to compare it to Luna's until after his arrest.

Prosecutors say Luna's DNA was found on one of the pieces of chicken.

So far under cross-examination, Homeyer has acknowledged that investigators were inside the restaurant without gloves, whihc would be a break from standard policy and that a tray above the trashcan with the chicken has a fingerprint on it that she has never been able to identify.

Homeyer's cross-examination continues this afternoon.

Defense were scheduled to question Homeyer this afternoon.

Opening statements in the long-awaited trial began Friday with the prosecution describing the evidence against Luna. County State's Attorney Richard Devine promised his case would be bolstered by the DNA evidence, a detailed confession and a palm print not matched to the defendant until after his arrest.

Defense attorney Clarence Burch urged jurors to wait until they've heard all the evidence, promising to demonstrate shoddy police work in the investigation.

The prosecution launched its case against Luna Friday with testimony from Manny Castro, the Palatine man whose 16-year-old son was among those killed inside the restaurant. He described his mounting worry that night as he waited for his always obedient son to return home from work.

Also Friday, Palatine police officer Ron Conley described the horrific scene as he entered the building with another officer around 3 a.m. and went to the freezer. Luna, 33, faces charges in the deaths of Lynn Ehlenfeldt, Richard Ehlenfeldt, Marcus Nellsen, Guadulupe Maldonado, Rico Solis, Thomas Mennes and Michael Castro. His high school pal, Jim Degorski, also has been charged in the slayings and has pleaded not guilty. The two men are being tried separately.

Luna was living in Carpentersville with his wife and 4-year-old son at the time of his May 2002 arrest. He could face the death penalty if convicted.