Murder case rested on fingerprint evidence
Josue Carillo-Perez, 31, was found not guilty after his second trial for the murder of Martin Gareau, the Canadian national whose body was found at his residence in Beach Bay after the May 2008 holiday weekend.
In giving his judgment on Tuesday, Justice Algernon Smith said both Crown and Defence were adamant that the case rested on two bloody fingerprints found on an interior door between the garage and staircase to the upstairs living area.
He said he had two questions to consider: Could he be sure either print was made by Perez? If the answer was yes, then when did the print get there?
Perez had denied being at the victim’s house any time over the holiday weekend. He said he had been a guest there some weeks earlier, when he and Martin cooked steaks on a grill in the garage and carried them upstairs for dinner with two women.
Justice Smith said he could not be sure the fingerprints were those of the defendant. Even on the assumption that they were the defendant’s prints, he could not rely on the Crown’s evidence as to when the prints were made. On the evidence before him, the prints could have been left on the door when Perez visited for dinner, Justice Smith said.
Other evidence had to do with the time of death. Mr. Gareau’s body was found around 7am on Tuesday, 20 May. His cousin had last spoken to him by phone around 1.30pm on Sunday, 18 May.
Perez was represented by attorneys Anthony Donne and Anthony Akiwumi. He gave evidence of his whereabouts that weekend and called witnesses who supported his account. He said he was at his sister’s house in Bodden Town until around 2.30pm on Sunday when he left to visit a friend in Windsor Park and then picked up his girlfriend, with whom he went to a hotel for the rest of the weekend.
Justice Smith pointed out that Perez had no burden to prove he was elsewhere at the time of the killing. On the contrary – the Prosecution had to disprove his alibi.
Fingerprint evidence made up a substantial portion of the judgment, which took almost three hours to deliver. Justice Smith noted that, until recently, fingerprint examiners have counted the number of similar characteristics when comparing prints; 16 similarities were required to identify a match. In Cayman, the ACE-V method was used. That is, one examiner analysed the prints, compared and evaluated them; a second examiner verified the results.
The current standard in the UK is non-numerical. It calls for two verifications of the initial examiner’s results.
In any case where the Prosecution relies substantially on fingerprint evidence, the judge said, failure by the print examiner to make notes during the examination and failure to have that examination verified by two independent examiners will render print evidence unreliable.
The case for the Prosecution, presented by Senior Crown Counsel Trevor Ward, was that the two fingerprints were stamped impressions placed on the door surface by a finger that had blood on it. Clare Hasart gave evidence that she examined photos of the prints and compared them to prints that Perez provided to police. She said she found sufficient details in quality and quantity to say that the prints agreed. As to whether the blood and the print were deposited on the door at the same time, she said she did not have the expertise to give an opinion. She maintained her opinion that the finger was wet when it touched the surface.
Justice Smith pointed out that she did not visit the scene of the crime and was working from photos taken by Scenes of Crime Officers – one on each side of the door. A hair dryer was used to fix each print to ensure it would not be washed away by the next step – a spray with a chemical that enhanced the print by turning the blood dark blue. This process made the print ridge details easier to see. The enhanced prints were then photographed and enlarged.
Fingerprint examiner William Mackay said in his opinion the prints were stamped impressions. That is, the finger was in blood when it touched the door – not that the print was there first and the blood rolled over it. He had made no notes when he concluded that the prints were made by Perez. He was shown a photo and asked if he would agree that it looked as if a part of the fingerprint was there before the blood. He responded that he was not a blood spatter expert. Justice Smith described as “less than impressive” this witness’ competence to conclude the prints were stamped impressions.
This was the second trial for Perez, who had been found not guilty after trial in October 2009. That verdict was successfully appealed by the Crown and the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial. The reason for that decision was the trial judge’s misstatement as to the standard of proof the Crown had to meet: Justice Roy Anderson had said the standard is enhanced when the charge is one of murder.