Bakersfield Californian


CALIFORNIAN EXCLUSIVE: Blood evidence in death of deputy destroyed
BY STEVEN MAYER, Californian staff writer
smayer@bakersfield.com | 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 asked.

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 serious.”

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,” he said.

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 Canyon.

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 the CHP.

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 repeated.

— 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.

EVIDENCE IN QUESTION

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 tests.

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 said.

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.”


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