Bloodstain Pattern Analysis: The Case of David Camm

By: Bill Clutter

The first use of blood stain analysis in an American courtroom occurred in 1966, in the re-trial of Sam Sheppard, an Ohio physician who spent over 10 years in prison before being freed. Sheppard had been convicted in 1954 of bludgeoning his wife to death in her bed, but maintained his innocence, claiming the attack was perpetrated by an intruder. This famous case inspired the TV series The Fugitive (1963-67) and the 1993 movie, starring Harrison Ford. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the original conviction because of pre-trial publicity that made it impossible to receive a fair trial. F. Lee Bailey, gained fame as a criminal defense lawyer by winning an acquittal on re-trial. Dr. Paul Kirk, a criminologist at the University of California, Berkley, conducted a reconstruction of the crime scene and provided the first expert testimony interpreting for the jury patterns of cast-off and impact spatter bloodstains that were present at the crime scene. His testimony helped win Sheppard’s freedom.

However, it was Herbert L. MacDonell, who is credited with establishing the profession of Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (BPA). In 1971, MacDonell wrote Flight Characteristics and Stain Patterns of Human Blood, the first authoritative BPA training manual. In 1983, he organized a meeting of his disciples whom he trained in Corning, NY and organized the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts (IABPA).

To acquire a better understanding of this specialty, I attended a bloodstain pattern analysis course sponsored by Bevel Gardner & Associates.

After giving an overview of BPA history, the instructor mentioned that the bloodstain profession has taken a few hits with the 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences that was critical of some of the practices of BPA in American courtrooms. He noted that one case in particular, the David Camm case in Indiana, has given the profession “a black eye”.

I had watched the CBS 48 Hours story on the Camm case several years earlier, so I was aware that former Indiana State Trooper, David Camm’s alibi had been corroborated by eleven men. He had been playing basketball at a church where his uncle was the pastor. The game started around 7 p.m., about the same time that his wife and two children were last seen alive.

The men played basketball for about two hours and David was there the entire time, according to those who played ball with him. At approximately 9:26 p.m. he arrived home and called his old post at the Indiana State Police after finding the bodies of his wife and two children in the garage of their home in Georgetown, Indiana.

Crime Scene Photo of daughter, Jill Camm

David told police he found his wife lying on the floor of the garage. She had a single bullet wound to the head. He found his five-year-old daughter, Jill, in her seat belt in the back seat of his wife’s Ford Bronco inside the garage. Jill had been shot once in the head. His son Brad was slumped over the back seat as if he had attempted to escape to the back cargo area when he was shot. David said his son’s body felt warm, possibly still alive. David climbed into the back seat, carried his son out of the vehicle and laid him next to his mother so he could perform CPR. Brad died from the single gun-shot wound that entered just under his arm pit. At autopsy, the pathologist found possible evidence of a possible “sexual assault” in Jill’s vaginal area which immediately changed the dynamics of the homicide investigation. The demeanor of the questioning toward David became accusatory. However, a week earlier, the child’s pediatrician had noticed the same inflammation, but attributed it to aggressive wiping or possibly a reaction to bubble baths. A mandatory reporter, the family doctor was not alarmed. No report of child abuse had been made at that time.

Evidence Photo of David Camms T-shirt

Prosecutors decided to call in a bloodstain pattern “expert” who had a reputation for assisting in the prosecution of cases that were difficult to prove. Two days later, David Camm was arrested for first degree murder, based on an interpretation of eight tiny bloodstains on his t-shirt. The “expert” who had been called to the crime scene interpreted these stains as high velocity impact spatter from allegedly firing the gun that killed his family. Some of the leading experts in BPA, however, disagreed, and said the stains were caused by transfer from coming into contact with his 5 year-old daughter’s hair that was saturated with her blood when he removed his son from the vehicle.

Rod Englert and the cover of his book ‘Blood Secrets’

Robert Stites was the so-called “expert” in crime scene reconstruction and bloodstain pattern analysis who arrived in New Albany, Indiana to assist Floyd County prosecutor Stan Faith. Stites, however, was merely a crime scene photographer who was working at the direction of Rodney Englert. The real “expert” was Englert, who was a Charter Member of the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts (IABPA). Englert was not able to travel to the crime scene, so he sent his photographer.

Police were unaware at the time that Stites was unqualified to render opinions about blood-stain analysis, but he did. Prior to traveling to Indiana, Stites had never taken any courses on bloodstain analysis or crime scene reconstruction, and was not a member of any blood stain analysis organization. The Indiana State Police evidence technician, who was initially in charge of processing the crime scene, had strong reservations about the so-called “expertise” of Robert Stites. After watching Stites the seasoned CSI realized that Stites didn’t know what he was doing.

Blood trail crime scene photo

The CSI came to this realization after Stites claimed there was evidence of clean-up at the crime scene. He said there had been a clear watery substance added to the large volume of blood that flowed downward to the edge of the garage away from the wife’s head wound. It turns out that it was serum separation, which helped provide a timeline as to when the murders happened. A defense bloodstain expert calculated that it would have taken about two hours for the serum to separate, placing the time of death at around 7:30 p.m. Stites arrived at the crime scene on Sept. 30, 2000. On the following day, David was arrested based on Stite’s opinion that high velocity impact spatter was present on David’s gray t-shirt known as Area 30. The police officer who served the arrest warrant, had reservations about arresting David based on the opinions of Stites.

The affidavit that prosecutors drafted that provided probable cause to arrest Camm relied entirely on the opinions of Stites. Stites observed eight small blood stains on the front left side of David’s t-shirt that were less than one millimeter in diameter. The size of stains, he said, meant this had to have been high velocity impact spatter from being in close proximity to a fired gun.

Backspatter and forward spatter from a bullet penetrating a blood source at high velocity can project a fine mist pattern of blood stains; backward as the bullet penetrates the object and forward as the bullet exits. Blood stains from high velocity impact spatter typically are less than a millimeter in diameter, as is found on David’s t-shirt.

However, as I learned from my BPA training, “Both expectorate blood [aspirated from the mouth] and flies produce patterns that an analyst can misidentify as impact spatter”, according to Tom Bevel’s book Bloodstain Pattern Analysis: with an Introduction to Crime Scene Analysis. Bevel cautions that it is, therefore, important for the analyst to consider the full context of the crime scene.

Blood stain experts Bart Epstein, Terry Laber, Stuart James, and Paul Kish, some of the most respected bloodstain experts in the country testified for the defense. They expressed their professional opinions that the small spots of blood on David’s t-shirt were transfer stains caused by the t-shirt coming into contact with blood saturated strands of his daughter’s hair.

However, none of the State’s bloodstain experts reported observing high velocity impact spatter stains on David’s shorts. The absence of spatter stains on David’s pants adds strength to the conclusion that the stains on Area 30 were caused by transfer from the shirt coming into contact with his daughter’s blood soaked strands of hair.

The linear pattern of the stains is also not consistent with high velocity impact spatter. One would expect to see a conical pattern of dispersal from high velocity impact spatter (both forward and back spatter) when a bullet fired from a gun impacts a body of blood. However, the bloodstains on Area 30 form a straight line, a pattern that is more consistent with a transfer of blood from strands of hair from a head wound.

My first case involving Rodney Englert, was a Lawrenceville, IL woman who was facing the death penalty. In June of 2000, I received a phone call from Katharine Liell, a criminal defense attorney from Bloomington, IN. Ironically; she would later represent David Camm. Her client, Julie Rea, was a Ph. D. student at Indiana University. It was a cold-case. Three years had gone by since the murder of Julie’s son, 10 year-old Joel Kirkpatrick. On Oct. 13, 1997, at 4 a.m., Julie was awakened by her son’s screams for help. When she went into his room, she startled an intruder. He had just stabbed her son to death with a knife that came from her kitchen.

The elected state’s attorney resisted pressure from the sheriff and her ex-husband to place her under arrest. The prosecutor made a public statement that there was not enough evidence to arrest anyone. After he left office, a special prosecutor intent on charging Julie Rea with a capital offense was appointed to take charge of the investigation. The special prosecutor hired Rodney Englert.

Englert was able to see evidence of cast off bloodstains in his interpretation of the night-shirt Julie was wearing when she encountered the intruder. Englert opined that the cast-off stains were allegedly caused when the mother drew back the knife after repeatedly stabbing her son to death. Bloodstain interpretations previously made by forensic scientists from the Illinois State Police could only find transfer patterns consistent with the mother’s story about colliding into an intruder and struggling with the man. She had a black eye where the man had punched her in the face, and she had a gash on her arm that required sutures.

I told Julie’s attorney that if I was appointed to her client’s case, I would want to investigate whether Tommy Lynn Sells had been in the area at the time of the murder. A child serial killer, Sells had just been arrested in Del Rio, TX, for a similar crime in which he broke into a trailer at 4 a.m and used a knife from the kitchen to kill Kaylene Harris while her mother slept. However, prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty in a maneuver to avoid reforms that would have leveled the playing field by providing Julie’s defense with financial resources to investigate her innocence prior to trial. After Julie was convicted in March of 2002, Diane Fanning published Through the Window: The Terrifying True Story of Cross-Country Killer Tommy Lynn Sells. Sells had told Fanning about a murder in Illinois in which he had killed a child and was startled by the mother who came into the room. He said he would have killed her too, if he hadn’t dropped the knife. Crime scene investigators found the bloody knife on the floor at the doorway, where Julie said she encountered the man.

I was able to corroborate the confession with witnesses who reported to their sheriff an intruder who matched Sell’s physical description. Based on this evidence, Texas Ranger John Allen provided an affidavit supporting Julie’s petition seeking to overturn her conviction. However, after her conviction was overturned the same prosecutors and police investigators who got it wrong dug in their heels and decided to disbelieve the confession before consulting with Texas law enforcement authorities. They re-arrested Julie just as she was about to be released from prison and set her case for re-trial. A new jury, hearing the evidence of the serial killer’s confession found her not guilty in 2006. She was represented by the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Law School pro bono. She subsequently received a Certificate of Innocence.

On June 2, 2003, a year after Englert’s testimony was used to persuade juries to convict David Camm and Julie Rea, an ethics complaint against Englert was filed with the American Academy of Forensic Science by some of the most respected bloodstain experts in the country alleging that Englert had misrepresented his education, training and experience. Subsequent to this, Englert filed suit against Herb MacDonell (regarded as the father of the BPA profession) alleging slander for calling Englert among other things “a forensic whore”, “liar-for-hire”, “a very smooth charlatan”, and “the Bin Laden of bloodstains”.

In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences released a critique of forensic science practices in U.S. courtrooms, noting that since the introduction of DNA testing in 1989 that “faulty science” was found to be responsible for the wrongful convictions of a number of post-conviction DNA exonerations. BPA was one of several disciplines that were faulted because of the interjection of “examiner bias” that may lead to erroneous conclusions when interpreting evidence like bite marks, tool marks and bloodstains. The report noted “many sources of variability arise with the production of bloodstain patterns, and their interpretation is not nearly as straightforward as the process implies”. The report found, “some experts extrapolate far beyond what can be supported”, and went on to conclude that “extra care must be given to the way in which the analyses are presented in court. The uncertainties associated with bloodstain pattern analysis are enormous”.

Four years after David Camm was arrested, his conviction was reversed in Aug. 2004, because prosecutors had unfairly inflamed the jury by introducing testimony about his extramarital affairs. Some of his affairs were with women with whom he worked at the Indiana State Police Sellersburg Post, which had taken charge of the homicide investigation.

A new team of investigators were called into the case to be “fresh eyes”. They discovered from their review of the file that there had been a grey sweatshirt that was foreign to the crime scene. The sweatshirt was found underneath Brad Camm’s body, where his father laid his son next to his wife.

The inside collar had the moniker “BACK-BONE” written in black ink. At the very beginning of the investigation the collar had been swabbed by a forensic scientist to identify the wearer’s DNA. An unknown male DNA profile was identified. Prior to David’s first trial his defense attorney asked the prosecutor, Stan Faith, (who had charged David) whether this DNA profile had been entered into CODIS, the FBI offender DNA database. The prosecutor told the defense attorney that it was submitted, but there was no hit. This was a false representation, which obstructed justice for David Camm.

Photo: Charles Darnell Boney

Years later, after an appellate court reversed David’s conviction, Camm’s new attorney, Katherine Liell, requested that the DNA be entered into CODIS. In Feb. 2005, a CODIS hit came back identifying a career criminal named Charles Darnell Boney whose prison nickname was BACK-BONE. He had been released from prison a few months before the Camm family was killed. Known as the “Shoe Bandit”, Boney had a foot fetish and was sexually aroused by holding women at gunpoint and stealing their shoes.

One of the female troopers who arrived at the crime scene had noted in her report that it was odd that the shoes of David’s wife had been removed from her feet and were placed on top of the vehicle.

Crime scene photo of Kim’s bare foot

Now, it all made sense.

Although his wife’s shoes and pants had been removed, there was no evidence of a sexual assault in the conventional sense. So investigators dismissed the idea that the crime was motivated by the behavior of a sexual predator. But knowing Boney’s sexual predilection of being aroused by women’s bare feet and legs, the artifacts of the crime scene fit perfectly with his MO.

Chicago Sun Times reporter Tom Frisbie described the “Prosecution Complex” in his book Victims of Justice, about the infamous Nicarico case. Instead of seeking justice when new and exonerating evidence was found proving the innocence of Rolando Cruz, which included DNA and confession of a serial killer, the police and prosecutors who got it wrong tend to circle the wagons to fend off the attack on the original conviction. In that case, police and prosecutors were eventually indicted for a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Less than a month after DNA identified Charles Boney, his palm print was found on the door frame of the passenger side of David’s wife’s Ford Bronco. This palm print is consistent with Boney having reached inside the vehicle to fire the shots that killed 7 year-old Brad, and his 5 year-old sister, Jill, who was still seat belted inside the vehicle.

Earlier, a judge had lowered David’s bond. He was released to what remained of his family. His uncle, Sam Lockhart, who had been playing basketball that night with David, bonded him out of jail.

But now Boney was given a choice. He could be charged with the death penalty, or he could cooperate and assist prosecutors with their theory that Boney provided the gun to David Camm that he allegedly used to kill his family. Boney initially denied knowing David when he was interviewed in February. A month later, with this new and compelling evidence of his palm print, Boney’s life depended on which choice he made. Despite his previous series of proven lies, Boney changed his story, and now said he met David playing basketball and after this first meeting arranged to sell him a gun that he wrapped in his sweatshirt. However, this does not explain why David’s wife’s DNA is on the left sleeve of the sweatshirt. The autopsy revealed that David’s wife had struggled with the assailant and had injuries suggesting she had been choked.

Nevertheless, David was re-indicted for conspiracy to commit murder and has been confined to a prison cell ever since. Although Boney was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and remains in prison, he recently said he has every expectation of being a free man someday.

The highlight of my BPA training was the arrival of Tom Bevel. He had been on the road most of that week testifying in court. During the noon break after his presentation, he told me about his work on a case in North Carolina where he had provided testimony of his interpretation of bloodstain evidence that had helped to exonerate an innocent man

On Feb. 10, 2010, he provided testimony for the North Carolina Innocence Project before an independent panel of three judges. This special commission was created by the state’s Supreme Court to establish an independent review of inmate claims of actual innocence called North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, the first of its kind in the nation. Bevel’s testimony persuaded the three judges that there was clear and convincing evidence demonstrating the innocence of Greg Taylor. Taylor was granted a full pardon on May 21, 2010, and was released from prison. He had been wrongfully convicted in 1993 of first degree murder based on erroneous testimony concerning bloodstain evidence. He spent nearly two decades in prison for a crime he did not commit.

A few years before that, Bevel had also assisted with the release of Tim Masters, an innocent man who had been convicted of murder in Colorado. In that case, Bevel reversed the previous opinion he had given that originally helped to convict Masters, after he had been provided additional evidence that had been concealed from him by the police detective who was later indicted for his alleged misconduct in the case.

Some of the real heroes in cases like this are guys like Tom Bevel, who dare to reveal their humanity by admitting when they get it wrong, but are willing to work to make it right.

Investigating Innocence founder Bill Clutter (center) with exoneree Ryan Ferguson and David Camm (right)

(On October 24, 2013, David Camm, walked free after 13-years in prison after a jury in Lebanon, Indiana found him not guilty in a third re-trial. His case was the first exoneration for Investigating Innocence, which was started earlier that year. Bill Clutter, who started the project, was a member of Camm’s defense team and suggested conducting an animated crime scene reconstruction, which helped persuade the jury that David Camm is innocent. Students at the University of Indiana assisted Clutter and the Camm defense team in reviewing the case and provided a fresh set of eyes. (Read more about the exoneration here. )

Bill Clutter is a board certified member of the Criminal Defense Investigation Training Council. He started the Illinois Innocence Project in 2001, and is the Director of Investigations for a national innocence project called Investigating Innocence that he started in January 2013.