Crime Scene Reconstruction and Blood Stain Pattern Analysis: The Case of Christopher Vaughn


Around 5:20 a.m. on June 14, 2007, a man driving to work along the frontage road of Interstate 55 south of Joliet, Illinois encountered Christopher Vaughn, 32, limping away from the Ford Expedition he had been driving. He had two survivable gunshot wounds. One bullet pierced his left wrist, while another went through his left leg. When the man asked if he had been in a motorcycle accident, or if he had been stabbed, he replied, “No, I think my wife shot me”.

His family, Abigayle, 12, Cassandra, 11, and Blake, 8, were found dead, seated together in the rear passenger seat, each shot twice. His wife, Kimberly, 34, was in the front passenger seat, slumped over the center console with a single contact gunshot wound under her chin. Chris’s 9mm Taurus handgun was found on the floorboard near her feet.

A few years before, Chris Vaughn had started Stone Bridge Security, a licensed private detective agency in Bellevue, WA. Kimberly planned to get her degree in criminal justice and join him as a PL In 2004, Chris purchased a 9mm Taurus and joined the Washington Association of Legal Investigators (WALI). One of the members suggested he get a gun for serving process. But Chris’ specialty was computer forensics. His wife passed a certification course and practiced shooting at a Seattle range.

Plans changed when Chris landed a job with Chicago-based Navigant. He moved the family to Oswego, Illinois. He traveled all over the U.S and Mexico downloading computer hard drives and mobile devices for some of the largest law firms, Navigant clients. It was a lonely life for Kimberly.

Transported to the hospital, Chris Vaughn believed his family was still alive. He told a nurse, “You should call my wife. She gets mad when I don’t call her.”
Interviewed by detectives, the only memory Chris had was that Kimberly wanted him to pull off the highway because she was feeling nauseous, a symptom of her stress-induced migraine headaches. He remembered pulling off, parking in front of a cell phone tower along a frontage road and getting out of the car to check the back tires. He had re-secured the strap on the topper, got back into the vehicle, noticed that his leg was bleeding, but had no memory of being shot.

The ISP crime scene investigator listed Kimberly as Suspect #1 and Christopher Suspect #2. The contact wound under her chin was a classic sign of self-infliction. The CSI said he was persuaded by the physical evidence that this was a murder-suicide committed by the wife.

So why was Christopher Vaughn arrested?

Police detectives found at the Vaughn home a copy of PI Magazine with a cover story called Crime Scene Staging and Alterations: The CSI Effect On Criminal Investigations. The magazine was collected as evidence and sent to the crime lab in an attempt to prove chat Chris had read the article, and became an expert on crime scene staging. The lab was able to find his fingerprints on the article. He told investigators he had been too busy to read the magazine.

The ISP CSI described how the phenomenon of tunnel vision infected the Vaughn case. He said, “Every time I would come up with something that the evidence would suggest or support or you would be able to at least follow the evidence to come to a logical conclusion, basically I was just given some other crazy way that this could have occurred or they would change their theory of what happened to try to match the evidence rather than letting the evidence dictate to you the events that occurred”.

After this, the CSI was excluded from the investigation and the Will County State’s Attorney wrote a letter to his supervisor asking that the CSI no longer be assigned to Will County cases.

During a case review with investigators and the crime lab, the State’s Attorney stated that a woman’s hand would be unable to squeeze the trigger of the 9mm Taurus. However, a state police ballistic expert from ISP crime lab who was present when he made this remark disputed this chauvinistic assumption saying that her own hand was able to test fire the weapon with no difficulty.

The State’s Attorney was also convinced that the barrel of the gun had been forcefully jammed underneath Kimberly Vaughn’s chin, based on his interpretation of what they called a “snowman” like soot impression on the bottom of Kimberly’s chin. The State’s forensic pathologist later disagreed with this conclusion and testified in deposition that the soot pattern fanning away from the entrance wound meant that this was loose contact with no force. There was no bruising around the margins of the skin. The gun bad not been jammed under her chin, as investigators initially suspected.

I was appointed as the fact investigator in 2007 after prosecutors declared their intent to seek the death penalty. I was brought on to the case by a St. Louis criminal defense attorney with whom I had worked before.

Gov. Patrick Quinn signed the bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois on March 9, 2011. That stripped away resources to defend Vaughn. Funding his defense reverted back to Will County. Gone was the Capital Litigation Trust Fund, a $20 million statewide fund created as one of the reforms to “level the playing field” by providing funding for defense experts, investigators, and experienced criminal defense attorneys. Created after PI Paul Ciolino obtained a confession that freed Anthony Porter from death row in 1999, the fund was intended to provide resources for proving innocence before trial rather than after conviction.

On the case for four years, Chris’s defense team, now preparing for trial, was yanked from the game. The Will County board denied a completion budget and appointed a local attorney.

At the National Innocence Conference in Cincinnati in April 2011, I ran into an old friend—Rob Warden, Executive Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Law School. After hearing the evidence that supported our defense theory, he recruited a defense attorney to assist pro bono. Without a good explanation, the appointed local attorney left a voice message to cancel the meeting and declined the assistance of the Center.

It was a sickening feeling, as the architect of our defense experts and strategy, watching the case swirling around the toilet bowl. The defense experts we recruited for trial were flushed down the drain. Key experts were never called to testify.

Eight months later, a jury deliberated 30 minutes before finding Chris guilty.

For the first few months, I had assumed this would be a sentencing case. At first blush, it looked like Chris was guilty. There were chat messages recovered from his computer to a guy in Canada revealing he was contemplating strapping on a backpack and leaving civilization and his family to disappear into Alaska’s Yukon. That spring he went on a vacation alone to explore the Yukon. He chatted that he was resting out the fantasy of going off the grid for good.

It didn’t make sense that a guy, like Chris, an expert computer forensic investigator, would leave damaging evidence on his computer if he were contemplating killing his family. In discussing his fantasy to trek into the wilderness, he suggested he could fake his own death so his stay-at-home wife could collect on his three and a half million dollar life insurance policy. He said he wanted the family to be taken care of financially.

There was a life insurance policy on his wife worth a million dollars, but if Chris was motivated by money, why would he leave a job that paid him $200,000 a year to hike into the wilderness to live off nature? His insurance agent told me she had suggested they take out a life insurance policy as part of sound financial planning. She set up a total financial package, but when she suggested insuring the lives of his children, Chris declined.

Another incriminating fact was Chris’ visit to a strip club near O’Hare Airport two nights before his family was killed. He spent over $4,000 on one stripper during two visits a week apart. She told police he only wanted to talk. There was no sexual contact, not even a lap dance.

The blood evidence on the back of his jacket suggested he was seated in the driver’s seat at the time his wife suffered the fatal contact wound under her chin. She slumped toward the driver’s seat and a river of blood flowed onto the center console, causing secondary spatter stains on the side of the driver’s seat adjacent to the center console. The back side of Chris’s jacket had a transfer stain in a straight line just under the right shoulder blade extending down to the waist of the jacket. This evidence suggested he was seated as his wife was bleeding and he leaned back, pressing the jacket against the leather seat, making contact with the secondary spatter stains.

Police investigators used this in their affidavit for probable cause, concluding that his statement of having looked down at his leg and then exiting the vehicle to summon help was inconsistent with the evidence of his wife’s blood on the back of his jacket. They noted that he had to have been seated inside the vehicle when his wife was shot and killed, yet he failed to remember his wife and kids being killed. He was arrested as he was about to attend their funerals.

It was only after I read the transcripts and watched the 20 hours of video interrogation by police that I realized Chris might be innocent. Reviewing his statements, it was apparent that he had no memory of what happened to his family.

It was clear that there were key events that he was unable to remember. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-IV), I found a condition known as Dissociative Amnesia, a form of memory loss caused when a person witnesses a traumatic event. The DSM-IV gave an example that a person may suffer this condition if they are the sole survivor and witness their entire family die in an automobile crash. The manual said a person would remember everything up until the trauma producing event, but would have no memory of the events that produced the trauma. In some cases the memory may be restored days later, or not at all, according to the DSM-IV I recommended that we appoint an expert in psychiatry to evaluate the statements Chris made to police. Our expert called me and said he was convinced by watching the 20 hours of video that Chris may be innocent.

Police had given him every opportunity to blame his wife, but he responded, “There was no way she could have hurt the kids “.

He genuinely appeared unaware that his family had been killed. The psychiatrist said he was using the present tense when he talked about
his wife and children. It was only after police showed him the photos of his dead family that he began to refer to them in the past tense. The psychiatrist said this nuance of detail would be difficult to fake.

Police then used trickery to illicit a confession. They told him that after 911 cell phone towers were equipped with security cameras. The mistake he made, they told him, was parking the vehicle under the cell phone tower. Chris pleaded with police to get the video so he would know what happened to his family.

On the second day, when police pressed him to try to remember what happened by telling him “do it for your children”, he had a fragmentary memory. After getting back inside the car, he said, “I looked over and thought I saw a gun, but I knew that was impossible — why does Kim have a gun? … It was like my mind shut off … I froze and I looked down and my leg was bleeding.” To have that memory in his mind of what happened next would be too painful to bear. So the mind blocks it out.

ln the video interview; he demonstrated raising his left arm between the gun and his head just as he noticed her pointing the gun at him. This would have been a fatal head shot, had he not worn his heavy, silver watch band imbedded with turquoise stones, that morning. The bullet deflected off the watch and went out the driver’s side window — evidence that was consistent with the CSI’s interpretation.

The gun was thrust into his jacket above the right pocket for the second shot. The bullet passed within a fraction of an inch over his penis and scrotum, entered the top of his left leg and exited through the side seam of his jeans. There were two holes in his jacket. The first entrance hole was the front right pocket; the second an exit hole near the back bottom left side of the jacket. A piece of his flesh was recovered around the margins of the exit hole of the back of the jacket. The bullet was recovered from the motor of the driver’s door window mechanism. Traces of his flesh and blood, and denim and polyester fibers consistent with the jacket and jeans were found on the bullet.

“If these were self-inflicted injuries, why shoot yourself twice?” the ISP CSI asked. This led him to question the state’s theory that Chris had killed his family.

Why would a father simply sit there after being shot and allow his wife to shoot and kill the kids and then herself without doing anything to prevent it? Before the death penalty went away, I was bringing in an expert to help explain this. One symptom of experiencing a traumatic event is the “freeze-response.” His statement to police ”I froze” is exactly what may have happened.

The best defense evidence was developed when we went to inspect the family vehicle stored in the old Joliet Penitentiary. The ISP crime scene investigator documented in his report that the bullet that struck Cassandra, seated in the middle between her two siblings, exited through the back of her seat and lodged in the rear cargo seat. Our crime scene expert Tom Bevel used a dowel rod to determine the bullet trajectory. The rod pointed in the direction of the passenger seat.

He recommended we retain ballistics expert Lucien Haag. During his second inspection of the vehicle, Haag attached a laser to the end of the dowel rod and was able, with the tip of his finger, to demonstrate that the shot that struck Cassandra had been fired from the passenger seat, Kimberly was seated.

DNA testing later invalidated a misinterpretation of blood stain evidence, which the State used to establish probable cause to arrest Chris. Initially, it was believed that he had unbuckled his wife’s seat belt after he shot her. When investigators arrived at the scene, they noticed blood stains on the strap of the seatbelt. When they extended the passenger seatbelt there was a heavy concentration of blood that had soaked through the fabric of the belt which had been concealed within the frame of the vehicle. When they latched the seat belt, the large bloodstain was located right at the point where the latch came together. Given the fact that the wife’s chin wound was directly above this, it was assumed that she had been the source of this blood.

However, a DNA report from the ISP crime lab contradicted this theory. This report was sent to the lead detective several days before he took the grand jury witness stand. He testified that it was the wife’s blood on the seat belt. However, the DNA report contradicted his testimony. All of the stains tested, including the latch, proved Chris was the source of the blood, meaning that his wife’s seatbelt had been latched at the time that her husband was shot. It was his blood that bled onto her buckled seat belt.

For some inexplicable reason, this report, received before the probable cause hearing, was marked “draft”. It was then re-dated to reflect that it was finalized a day after the lead detective gave his factually inaccurate grand jury testimony.

By analyzing the blood evidence on the wife’s right thumb, it all comes together to prove it was the wife who unbuckled her own seatbelt, after her husband had been shot. There is a transfer stain of blood on the inside of Kimberly’s right thumb.

Transfer stains occur when an object, like a thumb, comes imo contact with a bloody object. In this case, the seatbelt latch was soaked with Chris’s blood. There is a swipe mark on the latch, which corresponds with the transfer stain on his wife’s right thumb.

This analysis of the crime scene evidence not only disproves the initial police theory that it was Chris who unbuckled the seat belt, but it helps to establish evidence supporting a defense theory that this was a murder­ suicide committed by the wife. She had unbuckled her own seat belt co reach back to shoot her three children. Analysis of the bloodstain patterns on her left hand provides more compelling evidence that her death was indeed, a suicide.

At autopsy, the coroner was able to determine the orientation of the gun, based on the imprint of the gun’s site on Kimberly’s chin. During my investigation, I found a June 2003 American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology article entitled Back-Spatter Patterns: Hands Hold the Clues for the Forensic Reconstruction of the Sequence of Events that showed an illustration of the same orientation of a self-inflicted gunshot wound: “Blood spatter is mostly expected on the back of the thumb that is used for pulling the trigger … blood stains occur not only during the bullet impact or exit (back spatter or forward spatter) but also following blood seepage or dripping from the wounds.. “.

In some cases, the observation of back spatter on the hand that held the gun will provide unmistakable evidence of suicide. Back spatter is defined as a fine mist of blood that travels away from the entrance wound and creates a conical shaped pattern of blood stains usually measuring less than a millimeter in diameter. But not all entrance wounds produce back spatter. According to a study that used high speed photography to document veterinarians shooting cattle at close range, there were several occasions when no back spatter was observed.

Very little back spatter would occur with the bullet entering the soft underside of the chin. But what we see on the left thumb is seepage of blood from the wound, creating large patterns of passive blood drops. Autopsy photos of her left thumb show patterns of passive drops of blood in the location where it would be expected, if she had pulled the trigger.

The interpretation of blood stains on Kimberly’s lap and upper legs indicate she was leaning over the gun when it was fired, which further supports a suicide.

Even more compelling evidence supporting a murder-suicide came over a year after Chris was arrested when the Food and Drug Administration recommended a black box warning for a risk of suicidal behavior for the medicine Kimberly was taking to treat her stress-induced migraine headaches. After she enrolled in her online class, Kimberly began to experience migraine headaches that her doctor attributed to stress. It’s worth mentioning that when Christopher was interviewed by police they suggested that he had been “stressed out,” which caused him to shoot and kill his family.

But there is more than just stress involved here. Kimberly’s doctor began to prescribe a cocktail of medications to relieve her migraine headaches, including the prescription medications Nortriptyline and Topamax. Both medications were detected in the toxicology testing conducted at autopsy. The Illinois State Police followed up by issuing subpoenas to her physicians requesting her medical records “that may indicate suicidal or homicidal thoughts or impulses, or relating to Kimberly’s prescriptions for and utilization of the drugs referred to as Topamax, Avapro, and Nortriptyline.” She was taking Avapro for high blood pressure.

On December 16, 2008, the FDA released a report linking a statistically significant risk of suicide in patients taking the prescription medication Topamax. Approved by the FDA to treat epilepsy and seizures, Topamax has an off label use for the treatment of migraine headaches.

The prosecution won a motion to introduce all of Kim’s emails to show to the jury that she was a happy person who was planning for the future. The prosecution argued to the jury that nowhere in these emails was any hint of suicidal ideation.

Bue there was one email she wrote to her husband on May 24, 2007, three weeks before her death that provides the best supporting evidence that she was experiencing dangerous side effects of her medications. After visiting a new doctor who specialized in osteopathic medicine, Kim wrote that her new doctor told her, “stopping the migraine medication … will also help stop my anxiety … I told him that you had noticed and I had noticed a big personality change and anxiety change and that I was lethargic (tired all the time).”

According to the new medication guide published in May 2009, the FDA required the manufacturer to insert into the product labeling new warnings informing patients and physicians: “Effects on Thinking … TOPAMAX may cause depression or mood problems, tiredness, and sleepiness”. Other side effects: “acting aggressive, being angry or violent” and “acting on dangerous impulses.”

The new medication guide advised patients to inform their doctor right away if they experienced anxiety while taking the medication. Her chief complaint on the day she went to see the osteopath was for the onset of “high anxiety “.

We asked the doctor who prescribed the Topamax about his patient’s email to her husband. He said her big change in personality was of concern to him. Had he known this he would have taken her off the medication right away.

“Compared with what I knew about Kimberly, yes, that would be a big change… That would be significant”, he said.

Then the doctor was asked what the significance would be taking both medications Nortriptyline and Topamax together. He replied, ”Well, it would increase the risk of suicidal thoughts.”

Christopher Vaughn was sentenced on Nov. 26, 2012, to four consecutive life terms. He is at Menard Correctional Center, one of the most violent prisons in Illinois.

PI Bill Clutter is a board certified member of the Criminal Defense Investigation Training Council and received his training in bloodstain pattern analysis from Bevel, Gardner and Associates. He started the Illinois Innocence Project in 2001, and is the Director of Investigations for a new national innocence project called ”Investigating Innocence” that he created in January 2012.

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.