Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

May 25, 2012

Testimony in Butcher trial centers on evidence

TAHLEQUAH — Testimony given throughout the day Thursday in the first-degree murder case against Bronson William Butcher centered mostly on the state’s investigation of the case.

Jurors heard from special agents and criminalists with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, who testified about their probe into Dane Dunegan’s death and the processes used to identify and compare potential evidence.

Senior OSBI criminalist Joseph Orcutt specializes in forensic biology. He said he was responsible for comparing items seized after Dunegan’s death for possible DNA profile matches to Butcher or Dunegan.

A blood sample taken from a couch at Butcher’s duplex showed a DNA profile mostly matching Dunegan, Orcutt testified. He said it also had the profile of at least one other person’s DNA, but it wasn’t Butcher’s.

Swabs of blood found on the gearshift of a black Nissan car – which Butcher had borrowed from Muskogee friend Blake Rowan the day Dunegan was shot – had a DNA match for Butcher, Orcutt said, but not Dunegan. At least one other person’s DNA was on the gearshift, he said.

A sample of potential blood from that car’s front passenger floorboard matched Butcher’s DNA profile, but not Dunegan’s.

Orcutt also looked for comparisons on blood-like substances found on a left-foot shoe and a pair of blue jeans, both of which had been recovered at Butcher’s girlfriend’s home in a washing machine when Butcher was arrested. Former Cherokee County sheriff’s Investigator Matt Merideth testified that the items were wet when seized from the machine.

The DNA profile of the blood-like spot on the shoe matched neither Butcher’s nor Dunegan’s, Orcutt testified, but was identified as human DNA. The stain on the blue jeans provided a mixture of at least three people, Orcutt said, adding that Dunegan was excluded, but Butcher “could not be excluded.”

Butcher’s defense attorney, Donn Baker, asked Orcutt if he had been told to see if the DNA would match eyewitness Blake Gower, Rowan, or any other people. Orcutt said he had not.

Stormy Gibble, a senior OSBI criminalist who specializes in latent evidence, testified she analyzed a Sallisaw McDonald’s receipt recovered in the black Nissan, but was unable to collect fingerprints from the item. She said a “lift card” submitted by OSBI Special Agent Todd Spurlock, who investigated the scene of Dunegan’s death at Wisteria Lane, had a positive comparison to Butcher’s left little finger and left ring finger.

That fingerprint “lift” had reportedly been taken from a door at Butcher’s duplex.

Baker also called into question the arrest of Butcher at his girlfriend’s home. Merideth said he assisted in the arrest of Butcher and that he recalled Agent Ashley Stephens, of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, placing Butcher in Stephens’ truck after the arrest. Merideth said he heard Stephens provide Butcher with his Miranda rights, and that Butcher “advised he wanted to speak” to Stephens.

Merideth said Butcher told Stephens he’d met Dunegan the morning of the shooting, that Dunegan “tried to do something to him,” and that when the two “got into a fight,” it “went bad.”

Merideth said that conversation took place when Stephens and Merideth were transporting Butcher to the Cherokee County Detention Center. He also testified Butcher told officers he wasn’t under the influence of any substances, and hadn’t taken substances “in a while.” The conversation wasn’t tape-recorded, and officers didn’t ask Butcher to write his statement down at the time, Merideth said.

Baker questioned Merideth’s memory of the event, and pointed out the former investigator didn’t write a report following the incident in March 2011. Merideth said he wasn’t the lead investigator, and admitted he’d looked at other officers’ reports as a refresher of what happened last year.

“When you arrest a murder suspect, you remember most of the stuff that’s said,” Merideth told Baker during his testimony. “It’s not very often you do that.”

Merideth also testified he was with other officers who went to the home of Gower’s grandmother, where the black Nissan had been left by Butcher on March 15. Investigators had developed information that Butcher might be at the home, Merideth said.

Gower’s grandmother wasn’t home when they arrived, but Merideth said he recalled something was “wrong,” so officers entered the home without warrants and did a “protective sweep,” then left the house.

Merideth said officers saw a youth-sized .22-caliber rifle, which looked to be like a smaller youth-sized gun. Baker asked why agents didn’t take the rifle as possible evidence, since they had information that a similar gun had been used to shoot Dunegan. Merideth said the officers had been told the rifle used in Dunegan’s shooting was a pump-action weapon, and the rifle inside the home of Gower’s grandmother was a bolt-action.

Jurors were set to begin hearing a fourth day of testimony Friday at 9 a.m.

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