CALIFORNIAN EXCLUSIVE: Blood evidence in death of
BY STEVEN MAYER, Californian staff writer
| Thursday, Aug 21 2008
Last Updated: Friday, Aug 22 2008 7:20 AM
Crucial evidence in the vehicular manslaughter case against Daniel
Patrick Willsey has been mistakenly destroyed by the Kern County
District Attorney’s crime lab, the prosecutor in the case revealed in a
pre-trial hearing Thursday.
Judge Gary Friedman appeared stunned by the revelation.
"Why would they destroy a sample of blood ... before the trial?" he
No one in court could provide an answer. But late Thursday afternoon,
lab director Vernon Kyle said the sample was destroyed by mistake.
“This was an error obviously,” Kyle said, “an error that was obviously
Willsey is facing vehicular manslaughter and other felony charges in
connection with the death of Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Hudnall,
whose vehicle plunged into the Kern River Canyon after a head-on
collision with Willsey’s car in November 2006.
|HOW THE BLOOD WAS DESTROYED
Vernon Kyle, the director of the Kern County District Attorney crime
lab, said Thursday that blood evidence in the vehicular manslaughter
case against Daniel Patrick Willsey was destroyed by mistake.
He called it an “obviously serious” error.
According to Kyle, some evidence is routinely preserved for one year
before it is destroyed by lab staff.
But certain evidence is categorized as “not to be destroyed,” he said.
The Willsey evidence was in that category.
It was supposed to be segregated and was segregated for a time, Kyle
said. But somewhere along the way, it was moved back into the category
of evidence slated for destruction.
“The sample was destroyed Dec. 6, 2007 as part of our normal protocol,”
Unfortunately, the sample was supposed to be preserved until Willsey’s
trial, currently set for Oct. 20. Willsey, a Southern California
attorney, is accused of having meth in his system when he crashed
head-on into a Ford Bronco driven by Deputy Joe Hudnall.
The deputy was killed when the Bronco tumbled down into the Kern River
Hudnall was speeding at 68 mph and not wearing a seat belt, while
Willsey was travelling at 32 mph at the time of the crash, according to
But witnesses said Willsey was weaving in and out of traffic — and he
crossed over the center line causing the crash, the CHP’s accident
reconstruction team concluded.
“This is the first time in my memory we’ve had this occur,” Kyle said
of the lab’s inadvertent destruction of evidence.
He said he would do everything in his power to make sure it’s never
— Steven Mayer
|SAMPLE ALREADY CONTROVERSIAL
The blood sample in question was already a topic of controversy after
it was revealed earlier this year that a lab criminalist — and a friend
of the Hudnall family — inappropriately handled the sample.
In court Thursday, prosecutor Robert Murray told Judge Friedman “the
report of when, how and why” the blood sample was destroyed is being
prepared, Murray told the judge.
Another blood sample may still exist at Central Valley Toxicology in
Clovis, defense attorney Fred Gagliardini said. “But I don’t know if it
can be retested,” he added.
Friedman said he would sign an order as soon as possible instructing
the Clovis lab to preserve any evidence it may still have related to
the Willsey case.
The destruction of the evidence came to light because Gagliardini
requested a sample of the blood so he could have an independent lab
compare the results to the findings by the Kern County crime lab.
Lab tests performed by the DA’s lab indicated Willsey had
methamphetamine in his system around the time of the crash.
Now, Gagliardini says, he cannot perform a test of the same sample the
prosecution intends to cite at trial — the same sample that was
improperly handled by the prosecution’s lab technician and eventually
destroyed by the lab.
“This is embarrassing,” he said of the series of blunders.
Gagliardini has argued for months that the crime lab should not be run
by the District Attorney’s office because, he and others say,
scientists at crime labs should be disinterested in the outcome of
Now that Willsey’s blood evidence has disappeared from the lab’s “chain
of custody,” Gagliardini could conceivably argue that the lab’s blood
report is inadmissible as evidence because the defense did not get its
shot at an independent analysis.
It sounds like a common sense argument, but it’s not likely to be
successful, said criminal defense attorney Kyle Humphrey, a former Kern
County prosecutor and the current president of the Kern County Bar
Association’s Criminal Defense Section.
Humphrey, who is not connected to the Willsey case, said the courts
used to offer protection to defendants who were not given equal access
to the evidence against them, but those protections have been eroded by
the higher courts in recent years.
“There’s almost no protection for the defendant”
in these situations,
he said. “Ineptitude is not enough to argue that it’s not fair.”
Unless it can be shown the evidence was destroyed intentionally and in
bad faith, it’s very rare judges can bar the evidence from trial, he
On the subject of the crime lab’s error, Humphrey was blunt.
“There are a million things scientists are supposed to do to preserve
evidence — and they take pride in it,” he said. “Either a chimpanzee
did this or a scientist made a big mistake.”