DNA Evidence Produced Tuesday in Kennedy Murder Trial
Richard Kennedy, of Vandergrift, Pa., is accused of killing Tausha Baker, of Franklin, on October 27, 2017, and trying to burn her body to cover up the crime.
Amanda Kasardo, a DNA specialist from the Pennsylvania State Police who was accepted as an expert witness, testified on a number of pieces of evidence that has been produced during the trial, which started Wednesday, April 3.
Some of the DNA evidence is linked to Kennedy including Baker’s DNA on the right fingernail of Kennedy, which was submitted as a swab of the fingernail to Kasardo after the fingernail was taken from Kennedy in the early morning hours of October 28, 2017, at UPMC Seneca as part of a sexual assault kit administered to Kennedy – no sexual assault is alleged in this case, but the kit is used to collect DNA from people suspected of other crimes, as well.
Defense attorney James Miller asked Kasardo if DNA could be found when a hand contacts saliva, and Kasardo confirmed it could. He then asked if it could end up (on a hand) when sharing a straw to inject drugs, and again Kasardo said that was possible.
“It’s similar if you are smoking and share,” said Miller, and again Kasardo said that was possible.
Kennedy’s DNA, according to Kasardo, also appears in the form of blood on a pair of Air Jordan sneakers found at the house of Penny McCoy at 609 Hillside Avenue following Baker’s death, as well DNA from the shoestrings of the Air Jordan. His DNA was also found on the gas can that the prosecution says he used to help light Baker’s body on fire in a dump area off of Waterworks Road. Kennedy’s DNA was also discovered on a Marlboro cigarette butt found in the area where Baker’s body was found. Kennedy’s DNA was also found on the crotch area of a pair of Angel Brand Size 7 jeans found at Pioneer Cemetery in Franklin in December 2017, after Amanda Cypher told police where to look for certain items. (Cypher is accused of being an accomplice of Kennedy’s and is slated to be tried separately.)
In all cases of DNA, not just Kennedy’s, Kasardo said there were no absolutes, but she did say in most of the cases, the probability was extremely high, as in the 20s and 30s of zeros probability. (For example, 1 million has six zeros in it.) Although, in other cases, the probability numbers were much lower when only a Y chromosome could be tested for, in the thousands. The difference, according to Kosarado had to deal with the fact that the Y chromosome test (YSTR) utilizes a volunteer database that isn’t as large as an STR test, which can pinpoint the DNA source coming from one source.
Some of the DNA evidence that matched to Kennedy included multiple possible DNA matches, although Kasardo said Kennedy’s was the major contributor to the DNA.
That prompted Miller to ask if DNA can be transferred, which Kasardo said was possible, and then Miller asked Kasardo if it was correct that her testing couldn’t determine how DNA got “there” and she said that no, she couldn’t.
Baker’s DNA was also found in multiple places including from blood swabs on the kitchen floor of the house at 1313 New Street where Kennedy is accused of beating Baker prior to killing her, as well as on the utility room wall of the 1313 New Street house. Additional locations Baker’s blood was found was on a blue hooded sweatshirt; blood was found on the rear passenger seat of a Ford Edge SUV that prosecutors allege Kennedy and his accomplice, Amanda Cypher, used to transport Baker from New Street to Waterworks Road; and blood was found on a woman’s winter boot that was found at McCoy’s house on Hillside Avenue. A tooth found at 1313 New Street was also confirmed to be from Baker.
Kasardo, who had known *DNA from nine people said she had no DNA matches from anyone other than Kennedy, Baker, and Cypher had been discovered, other than a cigarette butt from Claude Bolling, Jr. (sp) that was found near the cigarette butt of Kennedy’s.
In cross-examination of Kasardo, Miller also asked her: “If you don’t have (a DNA sample), you can’t test it.”
“That’s correct,” Kasardo answered.
That line of questioning was brought up because of testimony given earlier in the day by Matt Santangelo, a Forensic Serologist with the Erie Crime Lab, who was also accepted as an expert witness.
Santangelo testified that he had processed a number of pieces of evidence and sent over 20 pieces of evidence for DNA testing.
When asked by Venango County Assistant District Attorney Justin Fleeger why some of the items were sent on for DNA testing and others weren’t, Santangelo said it was a matter of trying to send what was necessary to have tested without creating a backlog.
“The choice to send DNA for analysis comes from a conversation I have with the detective,” said Santangelo. “He chooses certain items, and I guide him to what is best. Sending everything would create a backlog.”
In cross-examination from Miller, Santangelo also said another determining factor in how much evidence gets sent for DNA evidence is the amount of time it would take to get all the evidence back in time for trial.
Miller asked Santangelo a similar question that he later asked Kasardo about if an item is tested then there is no way to know if there is DNA on it.
“That is correct,” Santangelo said.
What Miller was getting at is the fact neither a frying pan found at 1313 New Street that prosecutors allege was used by Kennedy to beat Baker nor a rock found in the vicinity of where Baker’s body was found that police allege Kennedy used to again beat Baker were tested for DNA evidence.
Prior to Santangelo’s testimony, Albert Lattanzi, of the State Police Crime Lab in Harrisburg, testified as a Trace Evidence expert.
Lattanzi testified to being asked to analyze fabric material and debris and hair. He said both came back with trace evidence of gasoline.
The trial is slated to continue at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 10. It is scheduled to last through Thursday, April 18.
*Note: The nine people who DNA specialist Amanda Kasardo had DNA samples were: Tausha Baker; Richard Kennedy; Amanda Cypher; William Umstead (the primary renter of the 1313 New Street house); Mark Daniel (who lived with Umstead at 1313 New Street); Kevin Yeager; Greg Militello (owner of the Ford Edge who also lived in the basement of the house); Penny McCoy; and Claude Bolling, Jr. (sp.)
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