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Judge allows DNA evidence

August 10, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

A Washington County Circuit Judge ruled Friday that DNA evidence collected by police in the Daniel and Wilda Davis homicide investigation will be allowed at the retrial of Russell Wayne Wagner set for Aug. 19.

Wagner, 49, is charged in the stabbing deaths of Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, in their home at 109 W. Wilson Blvd. in Hagerstown on Feb. 14, 1994. Police believe the motive was robbery.

During a two-day hearing, defense attorney Susan Puhala argued that the branch of DNA science used to study the evidence was not considered reliable and generally accepted by the scientific community.

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The evidence may have been contaminated because there "was an overall pattern of sloppiness of the FBI and Hagerstown Police in handling the evidence of this case," she said.

Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Joe Michael said the DNA science used in the investigation is widely accepted and there is no reason to believe the evidence was tainted.

Judge Frederick Wright said the methods used by police and the FBI may have not been ideal but they are acceptable.

"We don't live in a perfect world. Science evolves and certainty and perfection are elusive," Wright said.

Wagner was tried six years ago in the case, but a judge declared a mistrial after a Garrett County, Md., jury failed to reach a unanimous decision.

Authorities charged Wagner with two counts of first-degree murder again last year based on evidence using DNA testing methods not available at the time of the original trial.

Wagner has been held in the Washington County Detention Center without bond since the case was reopened through a grand jury indictment.

In January 2001, police and prosecutors said hair and blood samples taken from a glove found three blocks from the crime scene in 1994 was resubmitted to the FBI laboratory and the Bode Technology Group in Springfield, Va. Advances in DNA testing methods since 1994 indicated the hair might have come from Wagner.

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