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Expert says hair could be Wagner's

August 23, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

Hair found on a bloody glove lying in the street the day the bodies of Daniel and Wilda Davis were found in their West Wilson Boulevard home could have been that of Russell Wayne Wagner, a DNA expert for the FBI testified Thursday in Wagner's first-degree murder trial.

FBI agent John Stewart testified that he received various blood and hair samples from Hagerstown City Police and tested them against hairs found on the bloody glove and on a 5-inch hunting knife that prosecutors say was the murder weapon.

Stewart said the DNA of the hair found on the glove was similar to Wagner's DNA and to the DNA of about 10 of the people in the FBI databank of 5,071 DNA profiles. Stewart said that led him to conclude that Wagner could have been the source of the hair found on the glove.

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Wagner can't be excluded as the source of the hair on the glove, he said.

Stewart said a hair taken from the knife was from Hagerstown City Police forensic expert Jeffrey Kercheval.

Kercheval testified earlier that one of his hairs could have gotten on the knife as he took off or put on gloves during examinations of the weapon.

Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, were each stabbed multiple times on Feb. 14, 1994, according to testimony earlier this week. Their bodies were found the next day in the kitchen of their home. Their hands and feet had been bound with shoelaces.

Wagner in 1996 was tried on two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of the Davises. The jury in Garrett County, Md., where the trial was moved because of pretrial publicity, failed to reach a verdict.

Wagner was re-indicted on the same charges in 2001. Prosecutors said the charges were refiled because of new applications of DNA.

Baltimore defense attorney Michele Nethercott criticized the branch of DNA science - mitocondrial DNA analysis - used to examine the hairs and asked Stewart whether the science was still evolving.

Stewart said that the science is reliable and accepted by the scientific community.

The FBI Web site says mitocondrial analysis is used in cases in which evidence may be degraded or small in quantity.

Nethercott asked Stewart about the FBI's contamination policy, which allows testing to continue if the contaminated portion is less than 10 percent of the overall sample.

The FBI "goes through a lot of preventative measures" to ensure contamination doesn't occur, he said.

During testimony earlier in the week, the Davises' daughter, Vivian Monger, said she spoke with her mother on the phone at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 14, 1994, and called again after 7 p.m. but there was no answer.

Virginia Davis, the couple's other daughter, said she called her mother that night during the television program "Wheel of Fortune," which came on at 7 p.m. She testified that in the background she heard her father say "I know what you want" to someone at the front door. Her mother then came on the phone and said she had to go. Her mother didn't sound alarmed, she said.

Other family members testified that the Davises kept money from their rental properties in their home and typically cleaned up right after eating at 5 p.m. Lights were on and dirty dishes were in the sink when the Davises' bodies were found the next day, according to testimony.

Assistant state Medical Examiner Laron Locke testified that the couple died at around 10 p.m.

Prosecutors turned to Wagner as a suspect after his friends told police he was buying drinks at a neighborhood bar the night of the slayings and that Wagner bought work gloves at the Big Lots in the South End Shopping Center earlier that day.

Police found work gloves at Big Lots of the same variety as the bloody gloves found near the Davises' home.

Karen Minnick, a friend of Wagner's, testified Wednesday that she stopped at Wagner's home at around 6:50 p.m. on the night of the slayings to pick up a bottle of wine and he wasn't there. She said he called her at 7:20 p.m. to arrange an outing.

Minnick and friends picked up Wagner at 8:45 p.m. and Wagner bought them drinks even though he normally was broke, she said.

Wagner said that evening that his worries about paying his rent were no longer a concern, she testified.

Under defense questioning, Minnick said Wagner had only about $13 on him the night of the murders and he didn't appear to have come into money in the months afterward.

The prosecution is expected to conclude its case today.

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