Forensic analysts and police investigator take stand on Day 3 of Rick Ennis’ capital murder trial | Crime News
The capital murder trial of Derrill Richard “Rick” Ennis continued on Tuesday with multiple witnesses taking the stand, including a forensic analyst who said he found a DNA match between Ennis and a sample of “potential blood” and semen.
Ennis was arrested and charged in 2018 following a cold case investigation of the June 2006 disappearance of Lori Ann Slesinski of Auburn. Slesinski’s car was found engulfed in flames at the dead end of Dekalb Street in Auburn, but her body was never found.
Pete Macchia formerly worked in the DNA forensic biology unit for the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in the Montgomery Regional Laboratory. In 2006, he investigated the Slesinski case and looked for potential DNA evidence in her trailer.
Macchia was called to the witness stand on Tuesday, and Lee County District Attorney Jessica Ventiere asked if he found anything he thought could have been blood inside the trailer in 2006. He replied yes.
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Macchia told the jury that he swabbed the interior doorknob of the front door and ran a presumptive blood test of the sample, which returned as “possible blood.”
The process for this kind of test involves applying chemicals to the sample, Macchia said, and if it changes color “then it could be blood.”
“We refer to this as a presumptive test because it is not a confirmatory test. It just, it could be blood,” he continued.
Macchia said multiple items were sent to the Alabama Department of Forensics for testing, including the blood swab, sheets from Slesinski’s bed, DNA swabs from Ennis, and handcuffs and pants found in Ennis’s car.
Ventiere asked Macchia if he found a match for the potential blood swabbed from the door knob. Macchia replied, “Yes, there was a match.”
“Who did it match?” Ventiere asked.
“It matched to the DNA profile of Derrill R. Ellis,” Macchia said. On the report, Macchia said Ennis’ last name was misspelled as Ellis.
The sheets from Slesinski’s bed sent to the Alabama Department of Forensics were tested for blood and semen.
Macchia told Ventiere that all bodily fluids contain DNA and there are different tests for blood and semen.
Ventiere asked if any genetic materials were found on the sheets, and Macchia said they were “analyzed for the presence of semen with positive results.”
Ventiere asked if he was able to make a match to determine whose semen it was.
“Reading from the report, the major component of the DNA profile obtained from the stains on the sheet and the DNA profile of Derril R. Ellis match,” Macchia said, again referring to the mispelling of Ennis..
A pair of pants found in Ennis’s vehicle was also tested, but the results came back negative for “presumptive blood.”
The fur-lined handcuffs were also tested and Macchia said they came back negative for blood and semen.
The next individual to take the stand who was involved in the forensic analysis with the case was Jason Kokoszka, who was the chief of the forensic biology section in the Mobile Laboratory at the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences from 2005 until 2017.
While on the stand, Kokosza confirmed what Macchia said about the DNA tests matching Ennis.
“The combination of genetic traits detected in a major component of Item 23, which is the stains on the fitted sheet, occurs in approximately one of 6.66 quadrillion random unrelated Caucasian individuals. In one of 69 quadrillion random unrelated African American individuals, and with a high degree of confidence Mr. Ennis or his identical twin is the source of the genetic traits previously detected in that major component of Item 23,” Kokoszka said.
Earlier on Tuesday morning a former Auburn police officer took the stand and told the jury what he saw while investigating the case in 2006.
Lee Hodge, an officer with the Auburn Police Department from 1980 until he retired in 2008, said he was on duty when the police department received the missing person report on Tuesday, June 13, 2006. He went to Slesinski’s mobile home located at Ridgewood Trailer Park in Auburn and the site where her vehicle was found.
When Hodge first arrived at the trailer, he told Ventiere he remembered seeing Slesinski’s family, friends and coworkers there.
Ventiere asked if he saw Ennis there and Hodge replied no.
Hodge said he noticed the door to the trailer “looked like it could have been forced” open and the door looked “splintered and damaged.” He also told the jury that the damage looked “fresh.”
Ventiere brought a poster diagram of Slesinski’s trailer and put it on an easel next to the stand for Hodge to explain to the jury the layout of the trailer.
Hodge stood up to point to the door he entered and had Ventiere label the rooms inside. The front door opened up into the living room area. To the right was the second bedroom that Hodge said could have been used for office or storage space. To the left was the kitchen and a hallway that led to Slesinski’s bedroom and bathroom.
Scratches and scuff marks were along the walls in the hallway, Hodge remembered, and he found a single gold loop earring on the floor in the hallway.
Ventiere asked Hodge to describe the layout of Slesinski’s room. He marked on the poster the location of her bed and a night stand table.
“One thing that was noticeable in the bedroom,” Hodge said, “the bedding was not neat. The bedding was all shuffled.”
Later, Ennis’ defense attorney, Todd Crutchfield, quoted Arlene Slesinski’s earlier testimony that her daughter’s bed was made when she visited the trailer before lunchtime on Tuesday, June 13, 2006, and Crutchfield asked Hodge if he disagreed with her testimony.
Hodge said that the bed was not made when he saw it. He had arrived at the trailer around 3 p.m., he said.
Also during his testimony, Hodge told the jury that a phone was on the floor and the cord that connected it to the wall was missing, and that was all that stood out to him at that time.
Slesinski’s friends and family had mentioned to Hodge that a green trash can was missing from the residence. Hodge said they told him it was supposed to be outside the trailer close to the front door, and he said the green trash can lid was found inside the trailer in the office/storage room the second time police inspected the trailer.
Hodge also said friends and family had told him rugs were missing from the kitchen, and that the temperature in the trailer was “extremely cold, which was not normal.”
The APD then interviewed the family members, friends and co-workers and created a BOLO – be on the lookout – for Slesinski and her vehicle, which went out across the state that Tuesday.
Then Ventiere asked Hodge what happened the next day, June 14, 2006. Hodge said the APD received a call that Slesinski’s vehicle was located and burned at the end of Dekalb Street.
“At that point going from a missing person complaint to then finding her vehicle being burned, at that time it kind of shifted the missing person to something a little bit more serious,” Hodge said.
Ventiere brought a large diagram of the area where the vehicle was found and put it on an easel. Hodge stood up to explain the scene.
He told the jury he entered Dekalb Street from Opelika Road, and he pointed to the bowling alley building where Ennis worked and said Slesinski’s vehicle was located on the cul-de-sac facing towards Opelika Road.
Ventiere asked if Hodge collected any evidence from the scene and Hodge replied that he collected a “partially burned hand-rolled cigarette” that was “a little damp but not saturated.”
“Being in the environment that we were in, that hand-rolled cigarette looked very fresh, meaning it hadn’t been there very long,” he said.
Hodge, who worked in narcotics for about 15 years, said that hand-rolled cigarettes are different from what is sold in stores.
“It’s rolled in cigarette paper, what’s called a leaf, most of the time it’s white, but to make a hand-rolled cigarette you basically put the tobacco inside the leaf or inside the paper and roll it,” Hodge said. “After you roll it, you’ve got to moisten it. Most people lick it to seal it up. It does not have a filter, so it’s open-ended on both ends.”
Hodge said that was all they found on that day, but law enforcement returned to the area and located a gas can in the wooded area behind the dead end of the street.
Ventiere showed Hodge several packages of evidence and asked him to identify each one. Hodge identified the package with the cigarette, the cans he used to put aside debris from the car fire for testing, the gold earring, Slesinski’s bed sheets and the green trash can lid.
Ventiere asked Hodge what was on the earring and Hodge replied “a piece of hair.”
On June 15, 2006, Hodge said, he went back to the trailer with forensic scientist for a more thorough investigation.
After breaking to take shelter inside the Lee County Justice Center during a tornado warning, the capital murder trial of Derrill Richard “Rick” Ennis reconvened Tuesday afternoon and Hodge returned to the stand for further questioning.
Ventiere asked Hodge if he searched Ennis’s vehicle. He replied that he was present during the search and police found fur-lined handcuffs inside the vehicle. Ventiere opened an evidence package showing the jury the handcuffs that were found.
Crutchfield asked Hodge about the results of the fingerprint test conducted on the gas can that was found in the woods. Hodge said, “There was no latent prints of value. In other words it couldn’t be identified.”