Thursday, October 11, 2007

Judge approves DNA testing in 1982 slaying case


By Jennifer Harr, Herald-Standard

A Fayette County judge on Wednesday permitted DNA testing on evidence in a 1982 Hopwood murder.

Judge Steve P. Leskinen ordered prosecutors to submit four different pieces of evidence for DNA analysis.

The pieces of evidence are from a bloody crime scene at the former Hopwood Associated Hardware Store on Jan. 6, 1982, where store clerk Harry Frankhouser, 68, was found stabbed to death.

State police arrested Charles Adams, who in October 1983 was convicted of first-degree murder. Although Adams faced the death penalty, jurors sentenced him to life in prison.

Adams, who turned 58 on Tuesday, has maintained his innocence since his arrest, and in a filing under the Post Conviction Relief Act, claimed that DNA tests that weren't available at the time of his arrest and conviction could now exonerate him.

Adams testified in his own defense that he came into the store as a customer and was attacked by three men. When the attack was over, Adams testified he found Frankhouser dead in the back room of the store.

Although Leskinen ordered testing on some items, he also noted that some DNA tests already conducted in the case have shown only genetic material from Frankhouser and Adams.

Leskinen agreed to have DNA testing done on a cash register handle, Frankhouser's left sock, Adams' shoes and the knife used to kill Frankhouser.

Prosecutors were ordered to submit the items, and if they could not be analyzed, Leskinen asked for an affidavit attesting to that.

He gave District Attorney Nancy D. Vernon 60 days to provide the results to Adams' court-appointed attorney, Mark Mehalov.

Leskinen said he would determine if another hearing was necessary after the DNA results were returned from the lab.

Mehalov said the cash register handle is the "most crucial piece of evidence" because robbery was considered a motive for the killing. The handle of the register is a 2-inch by 1-inch piece of black plastic. There is a smear of what is believed to be blood on it.

There was testing done on some items before Adams' 1983 trial, however, that testing dealt with blood-typing, not DNA.

During the trial prosecutors presented evidence that Adams' blood type matched blood found on Frankhouser's clothes and on the cash register.

Adams testified he went into the hardware store to buy a part for a leaky faucet, and was attacked by three men who were already inside the store. After the men fled, Adams told a jury that he went looking for Frankhouser, and found him in the back room of the store. He testified he never touched Frankhouser's body.

"He's maintained his innocence from day one," Mehalov said during Wednesday's proceeding.

Vernon also addressed two other claims made in the petition. In one, Adams claimed that because there were so many stab wounds - nearly 30 - that some of Frankhouser's blood would have to be on him, and none was. Adams also claimed that because Frankhouser's body was moved, he would have had blood on him, but did not.

Vernon said Frankhouser's DNA on Adams' pants discounts the latter claim. The first claim, Vernon said, was discounted at trial by a medical expert who testified that the stab wounds were such that they would not have spurted or sprayed blood.

Frankhouser was wearing three layers of clothes at the time, and Vernon said that would have further discounted the possibility that blood would have been sprayed when the victim was stabbed.

Mehalov also said that he had newly discovered evidence, which can be presented under the Post Conviction Relief Act. A crime scene diagram, which was evidence in the trial, showed a shoe print, the length of which corresponds to a 9 1/2 size shoe, Mehalov said.

Adams wears a size 12, Mehalov said.

Testimony at Adams' trial indicated that the tread of that shoe print matched the tread of the shoes Adams was wearing when he went into the hardware store.

"That puts another person in the store who could have committed this crime, as Mr. Adams has maintained since this homicide occurred," Mehalov said.

Vernon said that the shoe print was talked about during the trial, but noted that the trooper who testified about it also told jurors that he could not be sure it came from the same size shoe as Adams'.

Leskinen said that the scope of Adams' current post-conviction petition deals with DNA, not newly discovered evidence. To bring that up, he said that Mehalov would have to prove that the evidence was supported by something.

The jurist noted that the print could have been a partial one. He said that Mehalov should further examine the print.

Adams was not present for the hearing because of a mix-up with paperwork that ordered him to be transported from the State Correctional Institution at Fayette to the county jail.

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