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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — An FBI forensic examiner testified Tuesday that DNA from James Booher, who was fatally shot in May of 2014, was found on a glove and floor vent cover at the Ely farmhouse where his accused killer lived.
Charity Davis, nuclear DNA forensic examiner at the FBI Lab in Quantico, Va., testifying during Matthew Robbins’ trial, which started last week in U.S. District Court, said Booher’s profile was generated from cigarette butts taken from an ashtray in his truck and from a kinship analysis profile of his mother.
The lab uses the more advanced probabilistic genotyping to analyze DNA, which was needed in this case because the samples were small and the human bone fragments found in debris pile at the Ely house had been burned, Davis told the jury. This method of analysis looks at the entire DNA profile and provides a likelihood ratio — strength of the evidence — to show the contributor.
A glove, found in the upstairs bathroom at Robbins’ house after May 31, 2014, was tested for blood, but there wasn’t enough of the stain to confirm it was blood, Davis said. The DNA testing of a stain found on the area of the pinkie on the outside of the glove showed the high likelihood ratio of 260 centillion that Booher was the contributor.
The palm area of the outside of the glove also showed a high likelihood of 220 centillion that it was Booher’s DNA.
The prosecution rested Tuesday afternoon and the defense will have its opening statement, which was reserved from last week, and begin its case Wednesday.
Robbins, 48, is accused of robbing and fatally shooting Booher, 51, a drug dealer, May 31, 2014. He is charged with robbery affecting interstate commerce, conspiracy to commit robbery affecting interstate commerce, and using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in murder.
In last week’s testimony, more than one witness said Robbins fatally shot Booher with a sawed-off shotgun and burned his body at a burn pit at the Ely farmhouse. They also said Robbins killed Booher because he was angry that Booher repeatedly sold him methamphetamine mixed with bath salts — reducing its quality or potency.
Davis also tested a stain taken from the floor vent cover in Robbin’s living room but couldn’t confirm it was blood. The DNA testing showed the likelihood ratio of 200 centillion that it was Booher’s.
She also tested bone fragments found in the fire pit, which another expert testified about Monday, for DNA, that were “pulverized” to release DNA from the cells but not much DNA was present. It rendered an incomplete profile of a male but it was inconclusive if it was Booher.
Heat breaks down DNA, so it was difficult to get a good testing sample in this case, Davis added.
On cross-examination, Davis said she couldn’t say how and when it was left at Robbins.’ She also admitted this kind of evidence degrades over time and humidity and storage would affect its condition.
It was unclear from testimony when the evidence was collected from the Ely house. Her report was done in 2015.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Williams, on redirect, asked if bleach would break down DNA. For example, if it was used to clean a floor or wall.
Davis said it would and it would be possible not to find any DNA.
Danielle Busch, Robbins’ ex-girlfriend, who also is charged in this case, testified last week that she, Robbins and others brought cleaning supplies, including bleach, after Robbins shot Booher in those early morning hours.
In other testimony about DNA, Tara Scott, a criminalist with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, testified swabs taken from Robbins’ house tested positive for blood and matched Booher. One swab was a mixture but the major contributor was Booher and the minor contributor was William Yancey, also charged in this case — less than 1 out of 92,000 unrelated individuals could have the same profile.
Another bloodstain taken from the wall or ceiling area matched Booher — less than 1 out of 100 billion could have the same profile and a separate stain matched Busch — less than 1 out of 100 billion could have the same profile, Scott said.
There were other stains but the contributors were two unknown males, Scott said on cross examination. None of the DNA was found to match Robbins.
Iowa City Police Detective Mike Smithey testified about his analysis of cellphone data collected from phones used May 30 and 31, 2014 by Yancey, Booher, Busch and Robbins. The tracking or mapping of the cellphone activity mostly bolstered testimony from other witnesses who provided details of the activities that night leading up to and after the fatal shooting.
The mapping showed there were no outgoing calls made by Booher after 3 a.m. May 31, 2014.
Williams, in pointing out the cell records didn’t show a number belonging to Robbins, asked if it was common for people to switch phones. It seemed odd that there were no calls between Yancey and Robbins, who talked a lot.
Other previous witnesses had said Robbins used different phones or they would receive call from Robbins on another person’s phone.
Smithey said there were no calls between Robbins and Yancey or Booher and Robbins, but there was one deleted test retrieved, which was from an unknown number. The text asked if Booher replied about Busch’s offer for sex.
That person would have to be familiar with the plan for luring Booher to the farmhouse by having Busch offer sex in exchange for meth, Williams said.
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