Attorney questions handling of blood evidence in Lewiston attempted murder trial

Posted Aug. 15, 2013, at 7:29 a.m.
Cleveland Cruthirds is in Androscoggin Country Superior Court in Auburn on Tuesday, being tried to the stabbing of Naomi Swift of Lewiston.
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal
Cleveland Cruthirds is in Androscoggin Country Superior Court in Auburn on Tuesday, being tried to the stabbing of Naomi Swift of Lewiston.

AUBURN, Maine — How much evidence was collected and the way it was handled by police was the subject of intense scrutiny Wednesday, the second day of the attempted murder trial of Cleveland Cruthirds.

Cruthirds, 27, of Lewiston is accused of stabbing Naomi Swift, also of Lewiston, 21 times in December 2011. He is facing six charges, including aggravated attempted murder, elevated aggravated murder and burglary.

According to police, Swift was in her first-floor apartment at 174 Blake St. on Dec. 10, 2011 when she was attacked. She was found in a fourth-floor hallway by police responding to a 911 call.

In Androscoggin County Superior Court on Wednesday morning, the Lewiston Police Department’s evidence and property manager, Ivan Boudreau, testified that not all of the victim’s clothing, which was saturated with blood, was kept as evidence.

He said bloody clothes that were cut off Swift in the emergency room at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, including a pair of gray stretch pants, a bra, and a pair of pink underpants were all disposed of to clear out the police department’s biohazard evidence locker.

The only item of clothing that police kept and had tested for evidence was her black T-shirt, a shirt that the State Police Crime Laboratory later found had blood and traces of seminal fluid on it.

On Tuesday, Patrol Officer Brian Beauparlant testified that he collected all of Swift’s clothes from the hospital on Dec. 10, 2011, bagged it and then hung each piece on a separate hanger in the LPD evidence locker to let it dry.

On Wednesday, Boudreau testified that in the days after the clothes were stored he repeatedly asked Detective Lee Jones, who was assigned to investigate the Swift stabbing, to look at the clothes to determine what should be saved as evidence and Jones did not respond.

Boudreau testified that by Dec. 19, the items in the locker had not completely dried and had begun to smell and he asked the evidence supervisor, Sgt. Jim Theiss, to make a determination on what items should be kept. According to Boudreau, Theiss authorized the destruction of everything but Swift’s shirt.

Boudreau also testified that he was upset that Jones didn’t respond to him and, when he learned that he would be called to testify regarding the destruction of the clothing and handling of other evidence, he sent an email to Jones, Theiss and others on July 1 complaining about Jones.

It was a “bitter” email, Boudreau said, because the date of his scheduled testimony was his 42nd anniversary. He and his wife had planned to spend this week at a timeshare up north, and he was upset he was being forced to give up that vacation.

Defense attorney Peter Richard Jr. of Portland asked Boudreau whether it was “common” for detectives not to respond to requests to identify what items should be kept and what should be destroyed in criminal cases. Boudreau said, “It is. They handle a lot of volume” and there is a limited amount of space available to store items.

Richard asked whether the LPD could have made other accommodations to store Swift’s clothing, rather than destroy it. Boudreau said it could not, because there is only one biohazard locker.

Richard pressed him, suggesting the department could have made other accommodations “like ordering another locker,” and Boudreau agreed it could have done that.

Richard asked why the evidence manager felt such a need to clear the locker, and Boudreau said it takes an hour to chemically clean the locker and prepare it for the next case and he wanted to ensure the locker would be available if it was needed.

“But there was no other evidence waiting to get in there, was there?” Richard asked.

“No,” Boudreau said.

In questioning Boudreau, Richard asked whether he was aware state law prohibits the destruction of evidence in any Class A crime, and Boudreau responded, “I think the key word is ‘evidence.’”

“So you’re saying blood (on the clothes) is not evidence?” Richard asked.

“We photographed items and kept what we thought had evidentiary value,” Boudreau said.

“So, you destroyed it,” Richard said.

“That was not our intent at the time,” Boudreau responded. “At the time, we acted in good faith.”

“But,” Richard said, “you don’t know whether the clothes had any other DNA or blood evidence.”

“That’s correct,” Boudreau said.

Richard also pressed Boudreau on the department’s inventory tracking report and discrepancies between that report and receipts from the state crime lab showing what was sent there for testing. The two spent a lot of time comparing the paperwork, after which Boudreau acknowledged the LPD reports were “not complete and accurate,” and that there were gaps in the in-house tracking of evidence in this case.

The second witness of the morning was state forensic chemist Michele Fleury, who tested the evidence sent to the state lab by the Lewiston Police Department.

Fleury testified that she tested blood found on a silver ring and black jeans that had been taken from Cruthirds during a police interrogation, and also tested Swift’s T-shirt, along with some swabs taken from Cruthirds and Swift.

She also tested for blood believed to be on the knife used in the stabbing, but was not able to find large samples because the first five inches of the 8 1/2-inch blade, starting at the tip, were covered in dirt.

Police found the knife at Lewiston High School.

The crime lab did not test all of the items it was sent, only the ones considered the highest priority by investigators, Fleury said, so she did not test a bracelet or sweat pants that had been sent to the lab. And, she never tested two swabs taken from Cruthirds’ hands because the samples were never sent to the lab.

She also did not test sheets, a blanket or any rug swatches from Swift’s apartment that may have contained blood because, although police took photos of the crime scene, none of the bedding or carpet was collected for testing.

Police collected swabs of material that appeared to be blood from the walls and doorknob of Swift’s apartment at 174 Blake St., but that material was never sent for testing.

In his cross examination, Richard asked Fleury whether she could determine the age of the blood found on Cruthirds’ ring and jeans, and she said she could not.

He then asked whether she could determine if the blood found was from a cut or from menstruation, and she said she could not.

Then he asked whether she thought it seemed fewer items were sent for testing in this case than in other cases of similar severity, and after talking for several minutes about comparable cases, testified that less evidence was tested in this case than was common.

The state is prepared to call police dispatchers; Swift; her friend, Karie Lessard, who was in the apartment when the attack began; and other witnesses who will say they heard Lessard and Swift screaming.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis is prosecuting the case for the state. Richards and John Paul McGrinney are defending Cruthirds.

The trial is expected to last through next week.

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