Prosecutors introduced DNA evidence into the Doris Phillips capital murder trial on Thursday that linked the 81-year-old victim to the defendant in the case, Miguel Arciba.
Expert witnesses testified that DNA from Phillips was found in the hinge of a knife recovered from Arciba’s vehicle. The knife also had DNA from Arciba, they said.
Several hairs recovered from Arciba’s car were matched microscopically as well as through DNA testing to a hair sample provided by medical examiners from Phillips’ remains, the experts also testified.
The trial, which began Tuesday in 40th District Court, Judge Gene Knize presiding, is expected to continue into next week as prosecutors bring in expert witnesses alongside investigators from the several agencies involved in the case.
If convicted, Arciba faces an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole relating to the death of Phillips, who disappeared from her Reagor Springs home July 25, 2006.
Arciba, 50, was initially arrested Sept. 3, 2006, on a burglary charge relating to the case, leading authorities to Phillips’ decomposed body in an abandoned house near Bardwell several days later, Sept. 8.
He has remained in custody since on a $1 million bond.
Prosecutors have alleged in the indictment that Arciba, the son of a former farm worker for the Phillips family, killed Doris Phillips during the course of either kidnapping her, robbing her or burglarizing her property. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in the case.
Physical evidence introduced
Numerous pieces of physical evidence were introduced Thursday, including Phillips’ white T-shirt, which authorities found removed from her body and in another room at the crime scene.
During several hours of testimony, Department of Public Safety forensic scientist Brent Watson of the agency’s Waco crime lab and forensic chemist/trace analyst Juan Rojas of the agency’s Austin crime lab detailed for jurors their respective training, testing procedures and policies in handling evidence.
Relating specifically to this case, Watson testified that a sample taken from the dark, blood-like stains on the T-shirt provided a DNA match to Phillips.
Testing also was conducted on items recovered through a search warrant from Arciba’s car, with Watson saying a wrench found in the trunk and a seatbelt latch in the rear passenger seat were “presumptive” for blood – but there wasn’t enough of a sample to yield any DNA.
The knife recovered from Arciba’s car, though, provided a sample from its hinge area that was a DNA match to Phillips, Watson said, noting that the inner areas of the handle provided a DNA match to Arciba. Another area of the knife yielded a DNA reading that included Phillips, Arciba and a third, unknown person, Watson said, noting that a bracelet found in the back seat was not presumptive for blood nor was any DNA found on it.
Watson and Rojas also testified as to the matching of hairs recovered during trace evidence “lifts” from Arciba’s car to the hairs provided by the medical examiner’s office from Phillips’ remains.
Final DNA testing was completed in December 2007, they testified.
Further investigation of ‘Israel Valdez’
Additional testimony also was given Thursday relating to an “Israel Valdez” the defense has continued to point to as Phillips’ assailant.
Investigators from the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Rangers have testified they conducted an exhaustive search for an “Israel Valdez” but have yet to find anyone to match a description provided by Arciba.
The investigation included the preparation of three photo lineups from DPS and sheriff’s office databases that included two men named Israel Valdez and one named Isaac Valdez, sheriff’s investigator Michael Hix said, but Arciba identified no one out of them as matching the person he said was responsible for Phillips’ death.
Also testifying Thursday was the owner of a local bar where Arciba told investigators he was drinking the night Phillips disappeared. Investigators said Arciba told them Valdez drove off with Phillips and later came back alone to drink with him. The club’s owner testified his establishment was closed on Tuesday nights in July 2006 – and Phillips went missing on a Tuesday night, according to testimony.
Prior to the start of Thursday’s testimony, Knize ruled that he would admit several crime scene photos into evidence as presented by the prosecution. Late Wednesday, the defense had objected to the photographs, saying there would be a prejudicial effect on the jury panel because their content included Phillips’ body on the floor of the abandoned house where her remains were found.
Knize initially said the photos would not be admitted, citing recent appellate court rulings that have placed a higher bar relating to evidence and its prejudicial effect versus probative value.
Knize said he had further reviewed the issue after Wednesday’s proceedings and, citing several cases, made a finding that all of the photos, with the exception of one that was a close-up, were admissible for the proceedings.
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