Jurors hearing evidence in the second-degree murder trial of Craig Pope were given a crash course in forensics Monday, particularly when it comes to lifting and examining fingerprints.
The jury members followed along with their own copies of Sgt. Ron Simms' forensic photos and reports, listening as he gave a detailed explanation of what he had retrieved from a taxi alleged to have carried both Pope and Jonathan Collins the day Collins was fatally stabbed.
Simms is a supervisor with the RNC's forensic identification unit, with approximately 3,000 calls as a forensic investigator under his belt.
Other witnesses have already told the court they saw two men get out of a cab on Alderberry Lane, off Mundy Pond Road in the centre of St. John's, the afternoon of Sept. 7, 2017. After a physical altercation, one of the men — later identified as Collins — collapsed to the ground, while the second man left in a taxi, witnesses have said.
Collins, a 36-year-old father of two, was pronounced dead after he arrived by ambulance at the Health Sciences Centre.
Pope, now 33, was arrested within the hour in a plastic surgeon's office off Elizabeth Avenue. He has been in custody ever since.
Simms told the court the taxi was identified and brought to the forensics bay at RNC headquarters on the evening of Collins' death. After obtaining permission from the vehicle owner to search it, Simms and two other forensic officers examined the car.
"When the vehicle first came, I did notice what appeared to be blood droplets on the vehicle," Simms said Monday.
He said officers took swabs of the droplets from the front passenger side, fender and sideview mirror of the car, as well as from the interior of the front passenger door and the floor. Simms said he mixed some luminol — a chemical that reacts with blood to glow blue in a dark area — and sprayed the car's floor mats.
"In doing so, I identified four more possible spots," he said, explaining the test indicates the possible presence of blood, but confirmation can only be made by further testing.
A DNA expert is expected to take the stand Tuesday afternoon to testify about those results.
Simms explained how he examined the cab for fingerprints, using a black powder to identify prints on the vehicle's yellow exterior, and a silver powder on the window. He told the jurors that fingerprints are unique, even in the case of identical twins who have the same DNA profile, and can only change with decomposition or severe injury.
Prints were lifted from the exterior of the rear passenger door of the cab, as well as on the back windshield, Simms said, before giving a painstakingly detailed account of how he had compared those prints to known prints from Pope and Collins.
"If we're going to look for fingerprints on something that's solid, metal or glass are the best surfaces we can find," Simms explained.
The jurors followed along with their photo booklets as Simms pointed out areas in the pattern of each of the prints, though some appeared to nod off as the lengthy explanation continued.
Simms concluded that a palm print from the door of the cab matched that of Pope, while a fingerprint from the rear windshield matched Collins' right middle finger.
Last week, the court heard audio from a recorded meeting between police and the taxi driver. Shown a photo lineup, the driver chose Pope's picture, identifying him as one of the men involved in the altercation, whom he had driven away from the scene of the stabbing and dropped off near Elizabeth Avenue. The driver - who has yet to testify - reportedly did not personally know either Pope or Collins.
"Yeah, that's him, b'y," the driver told police, picking out Pope's photo. "He's changed a little bit, but not much."
On cross-examination by defence lawyer Jon Noonan, who is representing Pope with co-counsel Randy Piercey, Simms said he had located other prints on the exterior of the cab: smeared partial prints on the driver's side that weren't of a quality suitable for comparison, and a "four-finger cluster" on the rear passenger side. Only one of those prints was suitable for comparison, but wasn't a match to any known samples, Simms said.
Medical examiner Dr. Simon Avis is scheduled to testify as the 15th witness for prosecutors Shawn Patten and Jude Hall when Pope's trial resumes Tuesday.