DAVID CAMM BLOG: Tiny dots of blood...
Sept. 18, 2013
LEBANON, Ind. (WDRB) – One of the most difficult aspects of covering the third David Camm trial – of covering any David Camm trial, for that matter – is portraying the blood evidence.
Can I be blunt? Listening to blood stain pattern analysts testify is about as exciting as watching paint dry. This is, in many ways, the part of the trial that many journalists have been dreading from Day One: the part where experts produce blowup pictures of microscopic dots of blood and drone on and on, hour after hour, about whether the dot is smaller than a millimeter, whether it's embedded in the weave of a t-shirt, whether it has direction and how long it took to dry.
And the most important question of all: is the dot an example of high-velocity impact spatter – the type of stain that would only appear on someone less than four feet away from a victim as they were shot – or is it merely an example of a contact stain that would show up if the suspect rubbed up against a blood source? The prosecution believes the former and Camm's defense team posits the latter.
The witness we heard from today – Tom Bevel – is the third blood stain expert the prosecution has called, and the defense is expected to call several others.
Like I said, when it comes to covering blood stain pattern analysts, it ain't easy. It's not that their testimony isn't valuable. On the contrary, the verdict in this case may well be decided on the blood evidence.
The problem comes when journalists like us try to distill this testimony into information that is not only easily digestible by the viewer / reader, but also manages to hold their attention. It's easy to be captivated by the emotional witness who relays a harrowing story of human drama. It's a little different when the witness is an expert hashing through data. Somehow, journalists have to find a way to make data exciting.
This is our attempt to do that.
"Where we need to be"
Court was gaveled into session at 9:12 this morning, one day after prosecution blood stain witness Tom Bevel took the stand. He had been on the stand for a few minutes yesterday, when the defense objected and the jury was dismissed for the day. Outside of the jury's ears, defense attorney Richard Kammen had argued that Bevel was bringing brand new conclusions – ones that the defense team had not had a chance to review – to the court. He also claimed Bevel was identifying blood stains no other expert had ever seen, and had not submitted any photographs of the stains to back up his theories. The judge had agreed to rule on whether some of Bevel's findings would be admissible.
But on Wednesday morning, all those troubles seemed to have vanished.
Judge Jonathan Dartt started the morning by telling the attorneys that he'd received "a flurry of e-mails" from both sides overnight, and that he'd made a ruling: Bevel was allowed to testify based on his expert knowledge of what does and doesn't constitute a blood stain, but he must submit photographs of the alleged stains for the jury to examine.
For his part, Kammen backed down on his claim that Bevel was offering "new" evidence.
"I think we're clearly where we need to be," Kammen said, adding that the previous day he had "clearly raised issues which were wrong, and we apologize."
Both attorneys pledged to move forward.
"That's what the court is hoping for," Judge Dartt said, smiling. "A day full of evidence."
Moments later, the jury was called in – as was Tom Bevel.
Witness: Tom Bevel (cont'd)
President of Bevel, Gardner & Associates
Blood Stain Pattern Expert
Bevel retook the stand at 9:24.
Special Prosecutor Stan Levco began by asking Bevel what he looks for when attempting to ascertain whether a blood stain is high-velocity impact spatter.
Bevel replied by pointing out that high-velocity impact spatter is usually "circular to elliptical" and "much, much smaller…than a passive blood drip." He added that stabbings, beatings and shootings create blood stains that are much different.
He said that high-velocity blood spatter has a range of approximately four feet.
Bevel explained that he spent four hours looking at the grey t-shirt David Camm had been wearing on Sept. 28, 2000 – the night of the murders. He said he began by looking with his naked eye, then turned to microscopes.
"In looking at the shirt itself, I see circular to elliptical stains that are consistent with spatter," he said.
Looking at Area 30 – the controversial set of stains on the front of David Camm's t-shirt, near the hem (pictured above), Bevel noted several stains that appeared to be high-velocity impact spatter. He said the largest of these stains was one millimeter in size, and the "geometry" of the stains was characteristic of HVIS.
"My initial opinion was that Area 30 specifically was in range of a gunshot wound in which backspatter was created," he said.
Levco questioned him further. What about the possibility that the stains were expectorate, meaning that they were created when blood was spit, hacked or sneezed on the shirt at high-velocity. After all, Camm did claim that his son, Bradley, was still warm when he discovered the bodies – and that he attempted to perform CPR on Bradley.
Bevel replied that he could consider the stains to be either high-velocity impact stains or expectorate from Bradley. There was just one problem.
"This was not his blood," Bevel said, pointing out that the dots of blood came from Jill, who could not have coughed or sneezed.
A few minutes later, the jury was shown a photograph of Jill as she was discovered, her body still in the back seat of the Bronco, slumped over her seat belt. Several arrows – created by Bevel – originated from a bullet wound in her head and pointed to areas of the passenger window where Bevel claimed there were blood stains.
He then went on to point out examples of high-velocity impact spatter in the Bronco itself, caused by the gunshot to Jill's head.
"We do have evidence of backspatter," he said. "While we don't have a perfect cone, we do a have a spreadout of stains."
The majority of those high-velocity impact spatter stains, Bevel said, were on the rollbar and the headliner of the Bronco.
Prosecutors then showed a slide created by Bevel that compared blowups of alleged high-velocity impact spatter stains found inside the Bronco, with supposed high-velocity impact spatter stains on David Camm's t-shirt. The stains – at least visually – appeared similar.
"Both are consistent with a radiating pattern similar to a cone shape from a backspatter event," Bevel said.
Bevel went on to show the jury highly magnified images of what he said was tissue from Jill Camm wrapped around a fiber on the interior headliner of the Bronco.
"How do you believe that tissue got there?" Levco asked.
Bevel replied that the tissue was "in flight" and was "pliable" enough at the time of impact to wrap around the fiber.
But what about the possibility that the stains in Area 30 of David Camm's t-shirt were so-called "contact" or "transfer" stains caused merely by David Camm rubbing up against a blood source?
"In my opinion, it is not," Bevel said, adding that it would be extremely difficult to mimic the microscopic stains on the shirt via a transfer-type situation.
"You would have to move straight in – no movement, moving laterally – and go straight out," he said.
From there, Levco asked Bevel to examine a photograph of one of David Camm's shoes. Last week, prosecution expert Rod Englert testified that the "skeleton" of a stain remained on the shoe after someone tried to wipe it off. Bevel pointed out that same stain.
"It has a direction of travel…from left to right," he said. "This would be consistent with a projected stain traveling above the floor…in line with the floor."
He said the stain had traveled in a "from-toe-to-heel" direction and could not have been dripped onto the shoe, as he could see a "leading edge."
"Blood in flight becomes spherical very quickly," he said. "I see the demarcated edges of the stain."
A few moments later, the jury was shown a graphic image of the body of Kim Camm as she was found lying on the concrete floor of the Camm garage, just outside the passenger side door of the Bronco. She was in her underwear – her legs and feet bare – and there was a stream of blood flowing from her head. Her pants were lying nearby.
"The position, in my experience and opinion, is a little bit odd," Bevel said. "That's an unusual position to end up in."
Bevel pointed out that her hair was tangled up in the button of her pants – so much so that it was taut. He said this wasn't consistent with the idea that she simply fell down after being shot. He also noted that there was blood on her fingers, but there was no obvious blood source.
I glanced at Camm at this point. He was looking at the images on a screen at the defense table. His eyeglasses were on. I could see no obvious emotion.
Then we were shown the most graphic image of the day: a closeup of Kim Camm's face as she was found. Her eyes were closed, her lips slightly parted, and there was a blood trail flowing from her head. Her hair was slightly disheveled, and Bevel pointed out where he said it had become entangled with the button of her pants, which were lying nearby. I made a grim observation in my notes that it almost looked as though she was asleep.
Then Levco asked a question that would set off a firestorm.
"Do you have an opinion as to whether or not this crime was more consistent with domestic violence than sexual?" he asked.
Immediately Kammen objected. Levco withdrew the question.
Moments later, the judge ordered a recess and the jury was escorted out of the courtroom.
When the jury was gone, defense attorney Richard Kammen blasted the prosecution for the domestic violence question.
"They just can't help themselves," he said, calling Levco's statement "improper questioning."
"This is exactly the type of problem that affected the last two trials," he said. "We have no choice but to ask for a mistrial."
He argued that Levco's question created a false impression in the jury's mind that Camm had a history of domestic violence.
He said that there had "never been any suggestion – ever in any trial – that he was physically abusive to his wife."
If they couldn't get a mistrial, Kammen argued that the jury should be admonished – by the judge – that Camm had no history of domestic violence.
He also made another request:
"We think that opens the door to Mr. Boney's violence against white women," he said, arguing that details of Charles Boney's criminal history – until now forbidden knowledge for the jury – should be provided.
For his part, Levco took strong issue with the defense's claim that prosecutors "just can't help themselves." He said it was a surprising accusation for Kammen to make, "given his history of accusing us of things and being wrong and wrong and wrong."
Levco said after hearing Kammen's comments, he wanted to withdraw his withdrawal of the question and put it back before the jury, claiming it was a proper question to ask.
"Our theory of the case is that he killed his wife," Levco said of Camm. "How can that NOT be domestic violence?"
He added that it "hardly rises to the level of a mistrial."
Judge Dartt agreed.
"I'm not going to grant the mistrial," he flatly told the defense. "I don't think in the scheme of things the prosecutor asked an improper question."
He did, however, believe the jury needed to be admonished about what they'd just heard.
So he declared a recess, asking the attorneys to put their minds together and come up with the written text of an admonishment he could give the jury – one that they could both accept. He also commented on another of the defense's requests.
"I'm keeping an open mind on Mr. Boney," he said.
Witness: Tom Bevel (cont'd)
President of Bevel, Gardner & Associates
Blood Stain Pattern Expert
After the recess, the jury was brought back into the courtroom, and Judge Dartt read them the admonishment that both sides had agreed upon. It told them that they were to disregard Levco's prior domestic violence question, and told them that there had been no domestic violence allegations against David Camm before the murders.
Moments later, defense attorney Richard Kammen rose to cross-examine Bevel.
Kammen asked him if he considered this a "pretty big case."
"I would agree," Bevel said, later agreeing that it garnered national attention.
"And it's a big case in the blood spatter community?" Kammen asked.
"I would say so."
Kammen pointed out that Bevel had made at least 10 public presentations about the blood spatter evidence in this case.
What if Bevel had to admit that he made a mistake about his high-velocity impact spatter findings?
"That would be a huge mistake, wouldn't it?"
Bevel said it would depend on the mistake.
He went on to say, "No, I would disagree. We all make mistakes."
"Like you said," Kammen noted a moment later. "We're all human beings."
"I certainly believe that to be correct," Bevel said.
Kammen asked Bevel if his firm, Bevel, Gardner & Associates, had grown into a lucrative business. Bevel agreed that it had.
As a defense expert, how often does he testify for the prosecution verses the defense?
"It is basically 50-50," he said.
Kammen pointed out that in 2005 he said it was 80-20.
Bevel replied that the percentage changes from year to year. In the past 18 months, he said it was 50-50.
What about blood stain pattern analysis as a science. Is it subjective?
"In some areas it most certainly is," Bevel said.
"There are experts who profoundly disagree with you," Kammen said. "Isn't that true?"
"I believe that that is accurate," Bevel said.
Kammen then presented Bevel with a 2009 study by the National Academy of Sciences which criticized blood stain pattern analysis as a science and called it "more suggestive than scientific."
"I disagree with that," Bevel said.
"You have a degree in police science?" Kammen asked.
Kammen pointed out that this was not a "hard science."
"I would agree with that," Bevel said.
Kammen then asked Bevel whether or not there was tension in the blood spatter community between experts with a police background and experts with a scientific background.
"I believe that's more individuals that could be pointed to," Bevel replied, adding later that, "I believe there is some, yes."
The attention then turned to Bevel's Web site. Kammen pointed out that the site explains that Bevel creates a "written event analysis report" for every case he analyzes.
"You prepared no written event analysis report for this case," Kammen said.
"I did not," Bevel said. "That is accurate."
Through questioning, Kammen hammered Bevel on the importance of being certain in scientific conclusions.
"We don't guess people into prison," Kammen said.
"I agree," Bevel replied.
"We don't speculate people in to prison."
Kammen showed Bevel examples of stains he claimed were blood. Under questioning, Bevel admitted that some of the stains had not been positively identified as blood through testing.
A short time later, the jury unleashed several questions on Tom Bevel. Below is a partial list of the questions. Except where noted by quotation marks, both the questions and the answers have been paraphrased.
QUESTION: The photo of David Camm's shoe – the one that shows what you claim is a projected stain on the side – also show stains that seem to be moving in a different direction. How do you explain this?
ANSWER: Bevel made a distinction between the larger stain – which he said was projected – and a smaller stain that he said was moving in a downward direction. He said the stains were made in two separate events.
QUESTION: In your experience, how can you have an incident where a suspect shoots someone and come away with only a handful of high-velocity impact stains on his shirt?
ANSWER: It's possible to have a shooter with NO high-velocity impact stains on his clothing. The number that appears is dependent on a number of factors, including objects that can block the stains, such as hair, clothing or other items.
QUESTION: Does the law enforcement community support your findings of HVIS on David Camm's shirt?
ANSWER: Yes, "if I understand your question correctly."
QUESTION: Why didn't you make a report in this case?
ANSWER: "Thank you for asking that." Bevel said he had originally only been hired to provide a second opinion to the state's main blood spatter experts. "I never even believed I would be in court at the time I offered a blind opinion."
QUESTION: Could wind have blown Kim Camm's hair into the pants button?
ANSWER: "In my opinion, no. Not in this setting."
QUESTION: Do you think Kim Camm's body was moved?
ANSWER: "I do."
A short time and several questions later, Bevel was excused.
Witness: Lisa Sowders
Former owner of crime scene cleanup business
Friend of David Camm
Shortly after lunch, the jury heard testimony from Lisa Sowders, an older woman with thick, black hair.
She explained that she'd known David Camm a long time.
"We went to grade school together," she said.
She explained that from 1997 to 2011, she and her husband ran a crime scene cleanup business. The business was still active on Sept. 29, 2000, when she saw Camm at his father's house. It was the day after the murders, and she had brought him a casserole.
She testified that Camm made a request: that she would clean the Bronco where the bodies of his children were found.
"I told him it wasn't important at the time and we don't clean vehicles," she said.
But she said he asked her a second time.
"I just told him it wasn't important," she said. "Just find out who did this."
Kammen rose to cross examine her.
Under cross examination, she admitted that she didn't know what Camm had been doing before they had the conversation. She didn't know if he'd been on any medications, or if he'd gotten any sleep.
"He clearly didn't ask you do to anything improper," Kammen said.
"No," she replied.
Before she was excused, she admitted under questioning that she had sent Camm a "card of support" while he was in jail in Nov. 2000.
On Oct. 7, she said she was hired by Camm's family to clean up the garage.
Witness: Diane Tolliver
Forensic Document Examiner
Currently retired from Indiana State Police
A short time later, Diane Tolliver, a smiling woman with thick blonde hair, took the stand.
She explained that she was a forensic document examiner who was now retired from the Indiana State Police. As a forensic document examiner, she said it was her job to examine handwriting.
She said her involvement with the David Camm case began when she was handed a five-page letter on legal-sized paper.
"I was asked to examine one particular paragraph of this five-page letter," she said.
The passage in question was the second paragraph on page 2 of the letter, which had been scratched out.
"I was asked to determine if I could decipher what the original letter contained," she said.
The writer of the letter was Charles D. Boney.
"I believe that the pressure used to write the original text was firmer than the writing used to obliterate it," she observed.
A slide of the scratched-out writing was shown to the jury and Tolliver read them what she uncovered under the scribbling:
"David Camm asked me to follow him to a secluded area. He wanted to talk to me about something that could help me Financially, he said. I followed him from Betterway Foodmart to the parking lot of Target. David Camm and I _________ _________ discussing…"
The blanks, Tolliver said, were words she could not decipher.
Kammen began his cross examination.
He pointed out that the fact that somebody writes something doesn't make it true.
"Correct," Tolliver replied.
Kammen added that he could write that he is skinny and has a full head of hair, but that wouldn't make it true. Tolliver agreed, to much laughter in the courtroom.
A few moments later, she was excused.
An end in sight…?
Judge Dartt adjourned court for the day a short time later.
"Alright. Another good day," he said.
And it's one day closer to the end of this trial. Levco told us earlier today that he hopes to rest his case tomorrow. That would mean that the defense could begin their case shortly thereafter.
I was able to corner Kammen and ask him to make an educated guess as to when the trial might end. He said 4-5 weeks.
Travis K. Kircher is a Web Producer for WDRB News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.