Forensics: a Deeply Troublesome Case

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Alongside potentially exculpatory and impeaching evidence that had been retrieved earlier this year, three professional reports about Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s case were filed with the Ohio Supreme Court last month. In one, Gary Rini M.F.S. examines witness testimony and documents from Jeff’s case, and gives his opinions about the original investigation of forensic evidence in this case.* 

Rini condemns the approach taken by those investigating the crime:
“The procedures used by crime scene investigators did not meet the standards reflected in contemporary crime scene-related texts… regarding the planning, searching, documentation, protection and evidence collection of homicide-related scenes.”

He pinpoints deficiencies in the following areas:

“-[T]here was not a demonstrated plan to search the scene in a structured manner which may have resulted in the failure to discover evidence at the scene;
-Failure to limit and control access to the scene to only those needed to process the scene increased the possibility of the loss, destruction, or contamination of potential evidence by curious on-lookers,
-Failure to employ the services of, or seek the advice of forensic specialists (e.g. bloodstain pattern analysts, forensic botanists, forensic geologists or forensic entomologists) at the time of the crime, could have contributed to the potential loss of associated forensic evidence which could have been discovered through the use or consultation with those specialists;
-Failure to provide sufficient scene photographs… could have resulted in the lost opportunity to discover additional evidence, or limit an objective crime scene analysis by an independent third-party expert.

He makes further pertinent observations, including:

“-[I]t is not uncommon for inexperienced investigators to misinterpret the results of certain presumptive tests for blood.
-Bleach will not prevent the scientists from locating blood.
-Due to the lack of the volume of blood one would expect inside a closed space (such as a vehicle) that would have been generated from the victim’s injuries, and due to the lack of any transfer evidence of the murder weapon onto the interior of the vehicle, it is highly unlikely that the victim was killed or transported in the suspect’s vehicle.
-The lack of detection of blood, or indications of blood clean-up within Wogenstahl’s apartment make it highly unlikely that the victim was murdered within Wogenstahl’s apartment.
-Any hair that may have been found may well have been deposited as a result of cross-contamination during the handling of the evidence by the various individuals who had custody of the material during the course of the examination and/ or testing of the clothing evidence.
-Had photographs [of the scene around and below the victim’s body] been taken, it would have enabled an independent third party bloodstain pattern analyst an opportunity to assess the degree of blood loss and distribution patterns of the blood in order to support or refute the determination of the outdoor scene as the location of the physical assault that led to the victim’s death.
The State’s contention that the victim was murdered elsewhere, or in Wogenstahl’s car, which was then used to transport the victim to the scene, is not supported by the physical evidence in the car, at the scene or on the victim.

 -My informed opinion is that the victim was killed very close to the dump site, then dragged… and placed where she was discovered.”

Rini shares his huge misgivings about the part played by the substandard investigation in securing Jeff’s conviction:

“In my nearly forty years of experience in law enforcement and forensic investigation, it is my opinion that the investigation of this case was so deficient in its thoroughness and adherence to established procedures of professional competence that it rates in the top 10% of the most troublesome cases that I have reviewed, or personally have been involved with, since I began my law enforcement career in 1975.”  

Any poorly conducted forensic investigation should raise concern about the case to which it relates; but where that poor investigation overlies extensive prosecutorial misconduct and the withholding of significant evidence from the jury, the concern must be compounded.  We trust the judges of the Ohio Supreme Court will agree. We trust they will grant Jeff a new trial.

*See *Volume 2 of Appendix to Appellant Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s Motion to Remand Case to the Trial Court, filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio, October 7, 2016 – Case No. 2016-0423; Pp 120 -126
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