One in 1.5 quintillion: certainly not odds you’d want to bet against, but not an absolute exclusion.
This was the basis of Robert Newell’s legal argument as he represented himself on a break-in charge last week, saying that although forensic experts had matched his blood sample to blood at the crime scene with a one in 1.5 quintillion chance the DNA belonged to someone else, there was still a minuscule chance it was inaccurate.
Justice Alphonsus Faour agreed Thursday afternoon, but said it didn’t matter; he was willing to accept those “enormous odds” as proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
For reference: a quintillion has 18 zeroes.
Faour convicted Newell of breaking into Trico Ltd., a siding contractor, on Austin Street in St. John’s in July 2016, saying he was satisfied the evidence at the scene — blood on the floor and on a wooden paper tray — was left there during the break-in, and was left there by Newell.
Second trial this week for accused burglar Bobby Newell
“There is no other rational conclusion that can be presented,” Faour said.
Newell, 34, smashed through two glass doors to gain access to the Trico office shortly after 1:30 on a Saturday morning, setting off the business’s security alarm system. Inside, he ransacked the place, but didn’t steal anything before leaving.
Forensic officers with the RNC examined the scene and took photos, finding two footprints, but no fingerprints or other evidence.
The following Monday, a staff member entered the office to prepare to open the business, and noticed drops of blood near her desk. On the inbox tray behind her desk was a smear of blood.
Police were called back to the scene and took samples of the blood, which was later found to be a DNA match to Newell.
Newell served as his own lawyer at trial and gave a detailed and eloquent closing submission, citing case law and pointing to what he believed were flaws in the police handling of the case, prosecutor Jude Hall’s questioning of the witnesses and the DNA analysis.
Faour didn’t buy it and sided with the prosecutor — who said there was no logical scenario to explain the evidence without pointing to Newell as the burglar — though the judge did commend Newell on his abilities in the courtroom.
“I know it’s a real challenge for a non-lawyer to make a case like this,” Faour said. “I’m not saying all your arguments were persuasive, but you put them together very well and I commend you for that. Hopefully when you put all this behind you, you’ll be able to use your talents in a better way.”
Newell will be back in court on June 19 for a sentencing hearing in this case and one other: he was also convicted last week of a second break-in, this time at St. Pius X Church. In that instance, which happened two months after the Trico break-in, Newell left behind a juice carton that was later found to contain his DNA on the spout.
Newell was arrested in the fall of 2016 and charged with more than 100 offences, including assaults, thefts and dozens of court breaches. He made a plea bargain for many of the charges, and others were withdrawn as a result.