Originally Published: May 27, 2010 10:36 p.m.
In a victory for the prosecution, a jury will be able to hear from two key expert witnesses - one on shoe prints and another on tire tracks - in the Steven DeMocker murder trial.
Superior Court Judge Thomas B. Lindberg will allow the testimony, relying on the jury to draw its own conclusions. Any defense concerns can be brought up during the lawyer's cross-examination of those witnesses, the judge said.
DeMocker, 56, faces first-degree murder charges in the July 2, 2008 bludgeoning death of his former wife, Carol Kennedy. The couple had reached a divorce settlement just three months before Kennedy, 53, an artist and psychotherapist, died. Prosecutors allege that DeMocker killed Kennedy with a golf club in her Williamson Valley home for financial gain to avoid $6,000 per month in alimony payments and turning over a retirement account. He also stood to gain control of $750,000 in insurance proceeds. Defense lawyers contend the settlement had favored their client and he had no motive to slay Kennedy over their financial situation.
Shortly after Kennedy's body was discovered, DeMocker told detectives that he was riding his mountain bike on trails near Granite Mountain at the time.
With very little to link DeMocker to the murder scene and DNA from two, or possibly three, other unknown men found underneath the victim's fingernails, Deputy County Attorney Joseph C. Butner III fought hard to have a jury hear testimony from FBI shoe print expert Eric Gilkerson and state Department of Public Safety scientist John Hoang. DeMocker defense lawyers, who filed a motion to block those witnesses, fought equally hard, claiming their disciplines amounted to junk science.
Citing a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences that questions the validity of forensic methods used for comparison of footprints and bicycle tire tracks, defense lawyers said that jurors would give undue weight to the testimony of those witnesses because of the prestige of the FBI and DPS. Jurors could just as easily look at the tire track and shoe print photos and draw their own comparisons, they argued.
Gilkerson told Judge Thomas B. Lindberg that he worked for the FBI examining shoe prints for 11 years. In this case he compared photos of shoe prints found near Kennedy's house sent to him by the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office to an FBI database. Gilbertson said that the shoe prints "closely corresponded" with La Sportiva shoes that DeMocker purchased in 2006. However, detectives never found those actual shoes.
Under questioning by defense lawyer John Sears, Gilkerson admitted there were "some problems" with the photos submitted by detectives and that detectives could have made casts to preserve the evidence. Hoang admitted to similar deficiencies regarding the bicycle tire tracks that he said were "inconclusive but could not be excluded" when compared to the tires on DeMocker's mountain bike.
Hoping to sway Lindberg against permitting Gilkerson and Hoang, DeMocker defense lawyer Larry Hammond called an Arizona State University law professor Michael J. Saks who specializes in forensic science. However, Butner objected to nearly every question that Hammond asked, effectively truncating Saks' testimony.