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Did he murder his mother? (continued)

The state medical examiner was never allowed to enter the crime scene ó another peculiar aspect of the investigation. That examiner, Alexander Chirkov, testified that he came to the crime scene the first evening and stood waiting outside the house for half an hour, but was sent away. Chirkov performed the autopsy at 10 a.m. the next morning in his lab, a delay, he testified, that denied him access to information that could have allowed him to pinpoint the time of death, and perhaps to discover other important information.

Then, too, there was the loss of the rape kit. A rape kit, a standard part of an investigation of a female victim ó especially a naked one ó includes swabs from the body, material from beneath the fingernails, and other potential physical evidence. This was, in fact, the only potential source of DNA evidence taken from on or around the body. Yet detectives did not ask to have the kit processed for months, and when they finally did they found that it had been "accidentally destroyed" at the office of the chief medical examiner (CME), according to a report submitted by Coleman. (Chirkov, who no longer works for the CMEís office, did not return calls from the Phoenix seeking comment.)

Even though they had been steered away from most of the obvious sources of physical evidence at the scene, the crime labís Wong and Ziolkowski of the crime lab did collect several pieces of physical evidence which strongly suggested that an unknown third party was involved in the crime. DNA found in the bathroom soap dish suggests that someone other than Raheem washed off the victimís blood, according to veteran DNA expert Donald E. Riley of the University of Washington, who reviewed the DNA evidence for the defense. A blood stain on the mattress in Raheemís room also contained a third partyís DNA, which appeared to match the mystery DNA in the soap dish. Fingerprints that did not match Raheemís were found on the shower wall, and on a blood smear on Raheemís bedroom wall.

From a plastic trash bag in the hallway, Ziolkowski also collected a soaking-wet shirt with a large red stain on it. Police determined the shirt did not belong to Raheem. The bag was lost before it could be checked for fingerprints; the shirt was placed in police storage.

What the shoeprint shows

Judge Barbara Rouse presided over Raheemís trial, which took place in Suffolk Superior Court, from January 14 through 24, 2002. At trial, prosecutor Lee emphasized three pieces of significant evidence that the crime lab found in Hillís apartment: a fingerprint, a T-shirt, and the shoe prints in the bathroom.

The fingerprint, matching Raheemís ring finger, was found on a blood smear on his bedroom wall ó that is, from his finger touching blood that was already on the wall. Even prosecutor Lee concedes that Raheem went in and out of the small, cluttered bedroom several times during and after the 911 call, and could easily have left the print then, rather than during the murder or clean-up. "Quite frankly, I agree ... it could have been deposited there after," Lee said in his closing argument.

An Army T-shirt belonging to Raheem, with large stains that appear to match the victimís DNA, was found atop a pile of clothes that were soaking in a washing machine in the kitchen. Lee argued that Raheem must have worn the shirt while moving the body. Ziolkowski raises another possibility: the pattern of the stains on the shirt "could be from wiping blood off a floor," she says.

Then there were the shoe prints ó in particular, one partial shoe print cut from a shower-curtain liner that had been draped over the side of the bathtub. Michael Smith of the Federal Bureau of Investigationís footwear lab, in Virginia, testified that the generic herringbone-line shoe print "corresponds in design and approximate physical size" with the right Nike Cortez sneaker Raheem was wearing when the police arrived at the crime scene. Smith would not offer anything more specific than that ó even declining to specify a range of possible shoe sizes that could have left the print, or that it was necessarily from a Cortez sneaker. Kuhn points out that even if the print came from a Cortez sneaker, that wouldnít prove a link to Raheem ó the Cortez is one of the most popular shoes ever sold, as a Nike spokesperson confirms.

To help convince the jury of the possible match, Smith presented a poster-board display in which a print of Raheemís shoe was overlaid with the shower-curtain shoe print. He told the jury that they could see very clearly for themselves how well the herringbone lines matched up. The FBI lab that examined this shoe-print evidence for the Boston Police Department has come under repeated scrutiny over the past three years for allegedly trumping up phony evidence to help district attorneys.

"Itís a crazy exhibit," says Kuhn, the independent consultant who looked at the evidence for the Phoenix. Kuhn works almost exclusively with impression evidence, including shoe prints. He notes that the images are not presented side-by-side, the overlap display is flipped heel-to-toe from the test image, and the overlaid images are taped in place, making them difficult to examine. "It seems to breed confusion rather than present easy comparison," he says.

More important, according to Kuhn, is that the two prints are overlaid in what cannot be correct alignment ó in fact, he says, there is no apparent way that the two images can be properly aligned. The test impression from Raheemís Cortez sneaker contains a cut-out box with a Nike logo that interrupts the herringbone lines, but none of the lines in the shower-curtain shoe print are interrupted. After repeated inspection and attempts to align the two images, Kuhn has concluded that Raheemís shoe almost certainly could not have made, in a single, clean step, the impression on the shower curtain. Nor could his shoes have made the many additional matching prints photographed on the bathroom floor. The FBIís Smith conceded under cross-examination that the Nike logo box was absent in all the photographed prints, even though that area of the shoe was visible in several of them.

Nevertheless, assistant district attorney Mark Lee, during his closing argument, assured the jury: "I guarantee you, there is no question, ladies and gentlemen, that itís beyond similar design features and approximate physical size. This was his shoe."

Kuhn also pointed out to the Phoenix that crime-scene photographs appear to show two distinct sets of bloody footprints, one with the herringbone pattern and another made by a Timberland boot.

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Issue Date: April 1 - 7, 2005
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