The Times West Virginian

Local News

March 19, 2014

Palmer trial: A matter of evidence

Experts testify about bullets and firearms

CLARKSBURG — Several witnesses from the West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory testified Tuesday on the seventh day of the first-degree murder trial of Michael Ian Palmer.

Palmer, of Baxter, was arrested in June 2012 and charged with the premeditated murder of his father-in-law, Everett “Ed” Wilson. Wilson was shot to death at the Baxter home of his daughter, Kristyn Palmer, and son-in-law, Michael Palmer, on Dec. 11, 2011.

The four witnesses testified that they handled evidence in the case.

The state called Phillip Kent Cochran, a firearms and tool mark examiner with the West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory, to the stand to start the trial Tuesday.

Cochran said he received several pieces of evidence from the case involving the death of Ed Wilson. Of the items he received, Cochran said he examined a fired bullet, an AK pistol and cartridge casings.

When he received the fired bullet and cartridge casings, he ran tests to compare the items to determine what type of firearm they came from. Cochran also examined the AK pistol to determine if it was manipulated to fire automatically.

To determine what firearm was used to fire the fired bullet, Cochran said he test-fired the AK pistol into a water recovery tank using another bullet. He then compared the test bullet to the one he received.

“We use the water to slow down and capture our test-fired bullets so it doesn’t do a lot of damage to our test fires,” he said.

In comparing the test bullet with the received bullet from the case, Cochran said he looks under a microscope for repeating patterns on both bullets.

He said when he compared the two bullets, he determined that the fired bullet came from an AK pistol.

Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Wilson asked Cochran if a bullet fired through a hard object such as a countertop can cause abrasions on the bullet. Cochran said it could mark abrasions on the bullet.

During cross examination, defense attorney Sean Murphy asked Cochran to read a section of the case submission he received with the evidence. Cochran read the section to the jury and stated: “brief description of crime states victim entered into suspect’s residence with force and had a set of brass knuckles in his hand. Suspect fired two rounds. One missed; one hit and killed victim.”

After the cross examination was over, Patrick Wilson asked Cochran if he knew why the case submission form stated what he had read. Cochran said he “has no idea why it’s there” and that it’s just part of the case submission form.

After an hour on the stand, another West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory employee was called to the stand. Nicole Macewan, a forensic analyst, testified as an expert in trace evidence and gunshot residue.

Macewan said gunshot residue is a result of a firearm being fired.

She told the jury that her supervisor, Koren Powers, received brass knuckles from the case and ran a test to determine if gunshot residue was found on the brass knuckles. Macewan said no gunshot residue was found on the brass knuckles.

Patrick Wilson asked Macewan if she was surprised that no gunshot residue was found on the brass knuckles. Macewan had testified earlier Tuesday that gunshot residue can easily be brushed off objects and clothing.

She indicated to the jury that she wasn’t surprised by the results of no gunshot residue because of how smooth the surface of the brass knuckles are.

Macewan said she also received two gunshot residue kits from the case. She told the jury the kits provided Powers samples from Michael Palmer’s right and left hand and face, as well as samples from Ed Wilson’s right and left hand and face.

Macewan told the jury that in their procedure, they don’t test gunshot residue kits from victims.

“With a victim of a gunshot wound, the wounds would indicate that the victim was in the presence of a firearm,” she said.

Macewan said Powers tested the samples from Palmer’s right and left hand and face. She found that gunshot residue was present on Palmer’s samples of his right and left hand.

She stated that if gunshot residue is found on a sample, it tells her the individual could have fired a weapon, been in an environment where gunshot residue is present or handled an item with gunshot residue on it.

During cross examination with Murphy, Macewan was asked if testing samples for gunshot residue can help in determining the distance of the person when a gun was fired. Macewan said it could help but not determine the exact distance from where the gun was fired.

Tara Hayslip was called to the stand after Macewan and testified as an expert in fingerprints. Hayslip works at the West Virginia State Police Crime Laboratory in the field of fingerprints and palm prints.

Hayslip testified that she received brass knuckles from the case and tested them for fingerprints.

“What I originally did was give the brass knuckles a visual examination to determine whether there were any visible prints on that item of evidence,” she said. “There were none present, so I continued processing some chemical processes to find any latent prints.”

Hayslip said she didn’t develop any latent prints or partial prints on the brass knuckles.

During cross examination with Murphy, Hayslip was asked how many cases she has worked on while at the crime lab. Hayslip said she has worked on close to 850 cases and has found prints on a variety of objects including plastic bottles and glass.

Murphy asked Hayslip how often it occurs that fingerprints are not developed after the testing. She said it happens very often and that factors such as the smoothness or roughness of an object affect the results.

“Smooth things are typically receptive to fingerprint residue,” Hayslip said. “The more texture an item has, the chances and likelihood of developing any usable latent prints decreases.”

David Miller was called to the stand after Hayslip was excused. Miller is a forensic scientist with the West Virginia State Police Crime Lab and has experience as a DNA analyst.

Miller testified Tuesday as an expert in DNA analysis. He said he received a fired bullet and fibers. Miller said he tested the fibers for only blood and found that no blood was present on the fibers.

“The fired bullet had fibers on it,” he told the jury.

Also taking the stand Tuesday was Danielle Saunders, who lives in the house beside the Palmer residence in Baxter.

During her testimony with Patrick Wilson, Saunders said she was home the night of Dec. 11, 2011, the night of the shooting. Saunders said she did not hear two gunshots that night because she was sleeping.

Saunders told the jury her fiancé, A.J. Tichenor, woke her up after the gunshots were fired. Saunders said she went to her bathroom window and looked out.

When she was looking out the window, Saunders said she saw Ed Wilson’s truck parked sideways in the carport with the door open and headlights on. She said her initial thought was that Wilson was being arrested for a DUI.

At that moment, Saunders said she saw Michael Palmer walking away from Ed Wilson’s truck toward the back of his house.

“I then went to another window and noticed that (Michael) was on the back porch,” Saunders said.

Saunders said she went to her living room window and heard Kristyn Palmer yelling for their dog.

During cross examination with Murphy, Saunders was asked about the statement she gave to the Marion County Sheriff’s Department on the night of the shooting.

Saunders said she was asked by an officer if she had heard the gunshots and if she had seen anything. In her statement she said she didn’t hear gunshots or see anything.

Murphy questioned Saunders about why she didn’t inform officers about seeing Michael Palmer by Ed Wilson’s truck or on the porch. Saunders said the officers didn’t ask her about it.

Murphy asked Saunders about her other interactions with law enforcement, referring to charges against her that were eventually dismissed because an officer failed to show at court. Saunders told him she hasn’t had a negative experience with law enforcement.

Continuing with his cross examination, Murphy asked Saunders if Ed Wilson ever helped her financially. Saunders said she had cashed a check Ed Wilson gave her for $800.

“(Ed Wilson) was a father figure to me,” Saunders said. “It was when A.J. was incarcerated, and it was for clothing and food.”

Murphy showed Saunders a copy of the check she cashed and asked if it was written in her handwriting. Saunders said it was.

The trial will continue today at the Harrison County Courthouse.

Email Emily Gallagher at egallagher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.

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