Evidence questioned in Missouri child rape case

Associated Press Published: October 6, 2012
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Leftwich said prosecutors asked for more time to review testimony by an expert witness, Dean Stetler, a University of Kansas molecular biology professor.

Russ Dempsey, one of two assistant prosecutors at the first trial, said he remains convinced of Dickson's guilt.

"He was the one who went in and raped her. It's clear to me, it's a good conviction," Dempsey said.

Hours before the attack, the victim's grandmother was among a group of at least seven card players at the home of Dickson's cousin Gary McElroy. According to testimony at his trial, Dickson didn't play cards but instead came and went from the home several times.

Dickson's brother Terry said his sibling was a crack cocaine user who went to 1024 W. Nichols to help broker a TV-for-drugs trade with one of the other card players. The jury wouldn't hear that account — before trial, prosecutors successfully petitioned the court to bar any mention of "prior bad acts" by witnesses, including drug use.

McElroy, Stewart and three other card players testified that Jeffery Dickson had two brief encounters with the child earlier in the evening: he brought her a glass of Kool-Aid and helped fix the computer. Those interactions formed the basis for the accusations that would lead to Dickson's conviction.

Leftwich said the other card players "decided Jeff did this, so we are going to tell the police Jeff did it. They all just convinced each other, and decided in their minds."

Also unclear are the roles of several other card players who were not called to testify at trial and apparently not interviewed, or located, by police. That group includes two women and, according to both the child's grandmother and a card player who has since died, two other, unidentified men.

Genetic testing by the Missouri State Highway Patrol's crime lab focused on samples taken from the victim's thigh and abdomen. In most rapes, vaginal samples also are taken — but in this case the emergency room doctor opted against that step, worried about further traumatizing the child. That oversight ultimately led to a change in hospital policy.

Rather than a full DNA screening, known as an autosomal profile, the Highway Patrol lab was only able to develop a biological connection between Dickson and the child testing for male-specific Y chromosomes. And those tests only found a sample that could also match more than 3,600 other men — including those in Dickson's paternal lineage, such as his brother Terry. The younger Dickson denied any involvement in the attack.

In October 2011, state crime lab analyst Malena Jimenez acknowledged that she simultaneously tested genetic samples from the victim's thigh and the suspect's penis — a breach of accepted protocol that could cause cross-contamination. The two samples, though contained in individual test tubes, were placed in adjoining slots in a container that held 96 unrelated samples, some of which were also processed at the same time.

The lab tests also found DNA from two other people mixed with Dickson's sample, which his attorney said "could also be due to cross-contamination, or it could be the DNA from the actual perpetrator of the case." DNA not belonging to Dickson was also found under the girl's fingernails.

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Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://twitter.com/azagier



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