Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Norman Collins: The Co-Ed Killer

Evidence Problems

The two-week trial, which ended on July 22 with a quick verdict, focused on the DNA. Five stains had been found on Mixer's pantyhose. They were of biological origin, but Stephen Milligan, who worked in the DNA section of the lab, said he was not able to identify them clearly as semen or blood, due to the way such evidence was stored three decades ago. The samples from both cases had been tested on the same day, but several technicians claimed they were analyzed in separate parts of the lab. To the charge that technicians had been careless, Milligan insisted that there had been quality controls in place and it was not possible that they somehow mixed the evidence. But the prosecutor never did explain how DNA evidence found on the victim could be linked to Ruelas, a major disappointment in the trial.

Defense attorney Gary Gabry hoped to capitalize on this oddity. He wanted to utilize Dan Krane, an associate professor of biological science at Wright State University in Ohio, who relied for his analysis on a controversial software program. Yet Krane was allowed to testify only in a limited capacity, because his methods were not generally accepted in the scientific community, so the full force of his analysis was not heard.

Still, DNA was not the only issue. A documents expert had said that a phrase, "Muskegon — Mixer," found penned in a phone book in 1969 was most likely Leiterman's handwriting, although another expert contradicted this. It was also confirmed that Leiterman had owned a .22 handgun at the time of Mixer's death, but he reported it stolen in 1987, so it could not be fired for comparison tests. In addition, the bullet fragments were too degraded for a good comparison. Nevertheless, a merchant testified that Leiterman had purchased .22-caliber ammunition in February, just a month before Mixer's death. How Leiterman came across Mixer was not clarified in media reports, but the assumption was that he noticed her ad requesting a ride and arranged to pick her up.

In all 30 witnesses took the stand, many from the original investigation. Closing argument took up the morning on Friday, July 22, and at 4:15, the jury announced that they had a verdict: they found Leiterman guilty of first-degree murder. Leiterman faces mandatory life in prison. His attorney vows an appeal. It's likely that, given the DNA controversy and the lack of explanation, this case will be analyzed by experts and attorneys, and used by some as an example of mistakes made during DNA analysis. It may also stand as a case of tunnel vision, since many investigators believed that Collins was their man.

 

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