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May 3, 2013

DNA evidence scrutinized on fourth day of Boswell trial

TERRE HAUTE — DNA analysis of evidence collected in a 1979 homicide case came under scrutiny Thursday in the fourth day of the trial of Riley native Richard Boswell Jr.

Forensic analyst Paulita McGuire testified that DNA recovered from a 1-millimeter stain on a T-shirt worn by victim Kathy Jo Baker was “consistent” with Boswell’s DNA profile. McGuire said that while the DNA sample did not meet the threshold to be a “match” to Boswell, it did meet the statistical threshold to be considered “consistent” with his DNA.

Boswell was arrested in October 2010 and charged in the unsolved, cold-case homicide. He is charged with murder in the May 1979 killing of 20-year-old Baker and the attempted murder of her then-2-year-old son, Ryan.

Testimony continued Thursday in the second trial for Boswell, 55, of Riley, in Vigo Superior Court 6. A trial in January was declared a mistrial because of statements made by a former prison mate of Boswell, who claimed that the defendant made a jailhouse confession of the 1979 slaying.

In terms of the DNA, defense attorney Michael Wright said the tiny spot on the back of the dirt-soiled shirt was the only biological sample related to Boswell from among all evidence tested, and it only tested “presumptive” as a blood spot. The spot was not “confirmed” as blood.

The six-woman, six-man jury also heard that biological samples were connected to Baker, her husband, Kenneth, their then-toddler son and some other “unknown” people. Some of the unknowns occurred because the DNA samples did not have enough information to reveal an identity.

McGuire, who has worked at the Indiana State Police Lab since 1995, also reviewed hair samples collected at the scene northeast of Riley where Baker’s partially nude body was recovered. McGuire also analyzed hair samples taken from a vehicle related to separate sex crime cases that occurred in 1979, and which resulted in the conviction of another man who the defense team has stated is a more likely candidate for the Baker killing than Boswell.

Additional testimony about those hair samples could come in additional testimony today if the prosecution team recalls ISP Master Sgt. Detective Tony Guinn to the witness stand. Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rob Roberts said after Thursday’s testimony it was unclear if additional testimony would come from Guinn.

Meanwhile, the jury also heard testimony from four people who lived in the Riley area at the time of the Baker killing on May 22, 1979.

David Montgomery and his younger brother, John Montgomery, were teenagers who lived down the road from the Bakers at the time of the slaying. Both men said they were friends with Boswell, who was older and had access to alcohol and marijuana and who liked to party with younger people.

Both men testified that one of the cars Boswell drove in 1979 was a yellow Pontiac Astre. They also both stated that they never remembered Baker walking to their house, nor her asking Boswell to help her fix a faulty lawnmower. On Wednesday, the jury heard a taped statement that Boswell made to ISP investigators in 2010 saying that he once gave Baker a ride home from the Montgomery property so he could fix her lawnmower.

Testimony also came from Eva Knopp, who lived on Canal Road in 1979 and knew Baker and her husband.

Knopp said she told police in 1979 about seeing a yellow Chevrolet Vega driven by Boswell in the area about a couple of weeks before the murder. She also said she saw Boswell’s car on Indiana 46 in a construction zone near the former Snack Shack restaurant near Riley at about noon on the day of the murder.

Knopp said she was contacted by police in 2010 after the cold case was reopened. She also testified Wednesday that she had seen other young men who live in that area driving a yellow Duster on the day that Baker was killed.

Baker’s stepsister, Lora Sherrill of Shelburn, also testified that she saw a cream-colored Vega driving past the Baker home several times, and that her stepsister was aggravated by the frequency of the car passing her house. Sherrill said that Baker yelled at the car, which contained two men, and the driver slowed down but continued past the house. Sherill said that incident made her nervous because she and Baker were alone in the country at the time.

Testimony is to resume at 8:30 this morning, and closing arguments are also expected to occur today.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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