Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: The Searchers Part 3

In The Searchers Part 2, I argued that the eyeglasses wedged between the cushions of Preston's couch appear to have been intentionally inserted rather than inadvertently dropped.

In this post, I argue that the glasses were treated with greater deference than all other evidence in this case. I suggest that such deferential treatment bolsters arguments that the glasses were planted by the HPD.

Consider first how the eyeglasses were treated relative to the other evidence collected from Preston's apartment.

Regarding the knife, the sheath, the jeans, the two blue shirts, the one maroon shirt, and the plastic bag containing a green leafy substance, CSU Officer F.L. Hale reported he kept them in his "care, control and custody until tagged into the police property room."

Regarding the eyeglasses, Officer Hale reported that he kept them in his "care, control and custody until hand carried to the latent lab to be printed."

Of all those items, only the glasses were sent (indeed hand carried) to a lab for analysis. It's not clear at all why the other items were even collected. The green leafy substance did not make it to the property room, at least according to the property invoice prepared by Officer Hale. None of the other items were (seemingly) ever tested for fingerprints. None of the other items were tested for blood until days before the trial or, in the case of the knife, in the courtroom during the trial.

The HPD, its crime lab, and the DA seemed strangely incurious about any physical evidence other than the eyeglasses. Their lack of curiosity extended well beyond the items taken from Preston's apartment. It extended even to the rape kit and fingernails. Those items were left in the morgue, untested, until days before trial.

The lack of curiosity extended as well to items collected from the crime scene. The beer can in particular provides an interesting contrast.

Let's see what Officer Hale had to say about that beer can.
Between the area of the trail, from where the complainant's [sic] were was an empty Busch beer can, which appeared to be fresh. The beer can was clean and had a small amount of condensation on the outside. ... This beer can was recovered in the high grass, on the north side of the trail, west from where the male complainant was found. The beer can was later printed by Officer Hale, however no prints were located. The beer can was recovered and placed inside a property room envelope and kept in officer's care, control and custody until tagged in the police property room.
Hale finds a beer can on the trail, between the two bodies. The beer can looks fresh. It's resting high in the brush. It has a few drops of condensation on it. Hale doesn't deliver it to the crime lab for printing. He prints it himself. Even though the can is fresh, and even though smooth metal is one of the easiest surfaces from which to lift prints, Hale somehow failed to find any prints whatsoever.

Unless the beer drinker wiped the can clear of prints, there must have been some prints to be found. Hale conveniently managed to find none, and conveniently elected to not turn the can over to the crime lab for more sophisticated testing. Instead he simply turned it over to the property room along with everything else the State found uninteresting.

Though Hale had good reason to suspect the beer can might have been left by the murderer, and though Hale had no reason to believe the eyeglasses belonged to Shandra rather than Preston, Hale treated the eyeglasses with more professionalism than he did the beer can.

Though usable prints could be recovered only from the lenses of the eye glasses, and though fingerprints on eyeglass lenses are easily visible to the naked eye (trust me), and though the lenses of the eyeglasses found in Preston's apartment appear to be print free, Hale nonetheless went the extra mile and sent the glasses to the lab for printing.

Just in case.

ADDENDUM (4 August 2012):
Reader Anon challenges my suggestion that Hale should have been able to lift prints from the can. Anon commented:

Exposure to the elements, i.e., water, rain, dew, condensation, etc., ruins fingerprints.
I replied:
Do you believe that "a small amount of condensation" on a beer can that seemed recently deposited would obliterate all the prints everywhere on the can?
He answered:
He reported that it "appeared to be fresh" -- that does not necessarily mean it was. 
Condensation of any amount can obliterate prints.
I believe Anon begin cautiously enough by suggesting that water can ruin fingerprints. I think he went a step too far when he claimed any amount of condensation can obliterate prints.

His last overly broad comment prompted me to put his claim to the test. I once again relied on my trusty reading glasses, the heroic spectacles introduced in The Searchers Part 2. I cleaned the lenses, then put a nice thumbprint on the inside of one lens. I then held that lens under my faucet to test Anon's claim.

I first tried a few drops. The print survived.

I then let water run slowly and briefly over the lens. The print survived.

I then filled the concave lens with water and let it stand for a while.  The print survived.

Having failed to obliterate my fingerprint with tap water, I turned to the source of all knowledge: The Internet. Sure enough, I quickly found someone who had more carefully tested fingerprints on aluminum submerged in sea water for 3 days. From the Underwater Criminal Investigators web site:
... the author printed and dropped in the last pieces of aluminum on hand and left them relatively undisturbed for three days. When drawn from the water, prints were found on all pieces, using both methods. Some prints had less detail or were fainter than others. Regardless, prints were detected and enhanced, shown in Figure 1.
Fig. 1, Prints detected/enhanced, 3 days immersion, black powder and cyanoacrylate 
Base on my own simplified testing and the more sophisticated testing conducted by UCI, I remain suspicious that Hale was unable to find any fingerprints on the beer can he described as "fresh."

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