Blood spatter vs. pooling: Attorneys in Johnson trial discuss evidence found in trailer
Jurors in Dominic Johnson's murder trial got a look at blood evidence found inside a travel trailer on day three of court proceedings.
Alaska State Troopers seized the trailer from the Almandinger residence after David Grunwald went missing in November 2016. Erick Almandinger was convicted of first-degree murder in Grunwald's death earlier this year.
Investigators said that on the night of Nov. 13, 2016, Johnson, Almandinger, and two other suspects locked Grunwald in the trailer bathroom, then ambushed and pistol-whipped him. State prosecutors said the group murdered Grunwald to cover up the evidence of the beating.
Forensic scientist Jamie Nading testified about blood samples the state crime lab collected from the trailer. She said six out of the seven visible stains field-tested presumptive positive for blood. One sample was on the left, inside wall of the bathroom near the door, Nading said. The samples were sent to the Alaska State Crime Lab for further analysis.
Nading said a chemical called BLUESTAR was used to highlight other stains.
"Sometimes it's used to find additional areas we can't see and a lot of times. We use it for documentation purposes because it will illuminate more than what we see with our eyes," Nading said as she showed pictures with glowing blue stains.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Lyle Stohler asked about the condition of the blood Nading found.
"Did you do any analysis on the blood stains you got to see if it was blood pooling or blood spatter, versus blood transfer?" Stohler questioned.
"No, I'm not a blood spatter expert," Nading responded.
"You didn't really see any evidence of blood pooling, is that correct?" Stohler asked.
"Not that I recall, no," Nading responded.
Stohler continued, "That's where you get a great deal of blood of someone is really, really bleeding?"
"Most of the stains in the trailer were small," Nading said.
Nading and forensic scientist Carly Wiehe both testified they smelled an odor of a cleaning agent inside the trailer and took pictures of white stains on the floor. State prosecutors said the suspects tried to clean up evidence of the crime and disposed of a rug from the trailer.
"For example, if there was a carpet covering the floor of the trailer, is it possible the blood could not have gotten on the linoleum if there was a rug covering it?" Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak asked.
"It's possible," Nading said.
However, Nading said there was not a rug in the trailer when they did their analysis. In Erick Almandinger's murder trial earlier this year, his father Rodney Almandinger testified there had been a rug on the bottom of the trailer and was surprised to see it missing.
Almandinger's neighbor, Kyle Pratt, testified he remembered a strong smell the morning of Nov. 14, 2016.
"It was a heavy smell of plastic in the air, burning plastic, mixed with a chemical smell," Pratt recalled. "It didn't smell right."
On July 15, 2017, Trooper Shawn Norman was called to a four-wheeler trail off Kangaroo Court, a couple blocks from the Almandinger home.
He said the Grunwald family found pieces of clothing and what appeared to be part of a rug that had been burned.
During a viewing of the trailer, jurors were able to go inside to see the evidence for themselves. Most spent a short time inside, less than 30 seconds. One juror asked if they were allowed to touch anything and the judge told them they could. That juror spent several minutes looking through drawers and cabinets.
The day took a turn when the prosecution called David Kanaris, assistant chief at the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Lab, to testify about blood samples collected from inside the trailer. Stohler objected to Kanaris being qualified as an expert in biological screening, in part because of the state's late-filing notice. Judge Gregory Heath denied the objection and Kanaris was allowed to continue his testimony.
When Kanaris referred to bench notes he took at the time of the lab processing, Stohler asked for a private conference with the judge and state prosecutors.
The judge then asked the jury to step out.
Stohler said he had not been given a copy of the bench notes. Judge Heath asked the prosecution to call Kanaris back as a witness next week after the defense had time to review the notes and a last-minute report that had been filed.
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