Prosecution closes in Fuller trial

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Testimony in a capital murder trial is expected to end today and the jury to sequester for a verdict.

The prosecution called its final witness during the second day of Devon Wayne Fuller’s murder trial, with the defense scheduled to begin calling witnesses this morning.

Fuller, 20, 3567 Franklin St., Bellaire, faces two counts of aggravated murder committed in the course of rape and aggravated burglary, one count of aggravated burglary, one count of burglary and two counts of trespassing. His co-defendant is Brandon Michael Phelps, 1281 Birch St., Bellaire.

Lydia Ashworth, 92, was found murdered in her home June 30, 2012.

Forensic evidence was the point of contention Tuesday. Prosecution and defense questioned forensic experts and investigators regarding procedure and the possibility of evidence contamination.

Andrew Sawin, forensic biologist with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, was called to the stand and described his analysis of evidence collected from the crime scene. He noted the types of bodily fluid found at the crime scene. He said no semen was found, but a chemical found in blood, saliva and other fluids, was.

Counsel discussed the integrity of the evidence containers. Defense questioned Sawin, asking if he could determine how many times an evidence container had been opened and resealed and by whom before it had come into his custody.

Lawyers then discussed the methods by which evidence could be collected, with the defense stating that the vacuum collection method cannot determine exactly where evidence was found on a crime scene.

The prosecution noted that if nuclear DNA evidence, which can pinpoint a specific individual, had been gathered, there would be no need to obtain mitochondrial DNA evidence, which marks matriarchal lines.

The defense countered that the lab was not dealing with a single suspect, but multiple suspects.

Next, Lynda Evelith, forensic scientist in BCI’s DNA division, took the stand and described the process of comparing DNA samples taken from collected evidence from samples taken from suspects.

Prosecution discussed methods of obtaining DNA and the environmental factors that might degrade a sample. She noted it was necessary to obtain a hair with a root, as when a hair is pulled out, to gauge an optimum DNA profile.

Evelith said 31 evidence samples were tested for DNA and samples were compared with Fuller and three other suspects. While much of the material and prints could not yield a complete match, a hair at the scene was a match for Fuller.

She added that Fuller could not be determined as a source of DNA taken from the bedroom, lockbox or interior latch of the kitchen door. Other hairs were obtained at the scene, but a profile could not be established.

She said the chances of the DNA coming from someone other than Fuller were many times the current population of the world.

Finally, Jeff Lee, chief forensic pathologist and assistant deputy coroner in Licking County, described the July 2 autopsy he performed. He described Ashworth’s injuries, which corresponded to severe beating and death by strangulation. He noted other injuries that gave the appearance of sexual assault.

Attorney Kirk McVey cross-examined for the defense, asking if some injuries might have been sustained in some other way, such as by a fall.

He also inquired to what extent investigators’ belief that a rape had occurred might have influenced their procedure and assumptions.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Scarcella questioned Lee again. Lee said the injuries were more consistent with an attack than with any accident or other mishap.

DeFrank can be reached at