Thursday, March 5, 2015
As I have noted in a few prior posts (here, here, and here), before presenting real evidence at trial, a party has to establish chain of custody. For instance, assume that the State collects brain tissue from the victim and seeks to present evidence concerning that brain tissue at trial. If the prosecution were unable to present evidence to create a reasonable probability that the evidence was the same evidence taken from the victim in substantially the same condition as when it was taken, the prosecution would have failed to establish chain of custody. As a result, the evidence would be inadmissible. This is exactly what happened in a case out of Roanoke, Virginia last fall.
Leslie Dickerson was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of his ex-wife, Mindy Dickerson.
Mindy Dickerson’s death was at first ruled to be caused by encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. At some point, another medical examiner changed the cause of death to "undetermined." In 2012, a third medical examiner re-examined what was believed to be Mindy Dickerson’s brain tissue and found that the tissue did not match Mindy Dickerson’s DNA, according to testimony.
This last finding prompted the defense to move to exclude the tissue samples taken from the victim's brain stem on chain of custody grounds. In response,
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Marcus Long said...that it’s clear "something drastic" happened to the evidence. Because it’s "not the same evidence" anymore, the chain of custody was broken, Long said. When the chain of custody is broken, the evidence is not admissible.
Long ruled to exclude any testimony involving the DNA of Mindy Dickerson. That also includes Amy Tharp’s report on the cause of death because her determination was based "in large part" on the tissue not belonging to Mindy Dickerson, Long said.
As a result of the evidence being excluded, Leslie Dickerson was released from jail.