Closing arguments in ‘cold case’ trial focus on DNA evidence

EVERETT — A jury is now writing the next chapter in a brutal murder mystery that has been unfolding in Snohomish County for more than 19 years.

Jurors in the first-degree murder trial of Danny Ross Giles on Thursday afternoon began deliberating whether prosecutors and police have proven he killed Patti Berry on July 31, 1995.

They spent nearly three weeks absorbing testimony about the killing, capped off by lawyers on both sides of the case spending roughly three hours nonstop urging them how best to weigh what they learned.

Giles killed Berry, 26, all those years ago and is only being brought to account now because of dogged police work and advances in science, deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson said.

He pointed to the results of sensitive genetic tests that discovered Giles’ DNA on items associated with the killing, particularly the steering wheel of Berry’s blood-spattered car.

“He was in that car. His hands were on that steering wheel. And we know the killer drove that car,” Matheson said.

But prosecutors and police are picking and choosing among the evidence, discounting anything that doesn’t point toward Giles, said Linda Coburn, one of two public defenders representing Giles.

“That’s not justice for Danny Giles and that’s not justice for Patti Berry,” she said.

Berry was killed after she left Honey’s, a strip club where she worked as a dancer along Highway 99, south of Everett.

She was stabbed up to 18 times in the throat and face, an attack that may have started as she was trying to put air into a leaky tire. She was put in the backseat of her car, then likely driven to a patch of woods just south of the Everett Mall, where her body was dumped.

The bloody vehicle and some of her clothing were found near a car wash off 128th Street SW. Days later, her body was discovered by children. A single mom, Berry left behind a daughter, then just 2.

Giles at the time wasn’t a suspect in the case, which quickly stalled for lack of leads. That changed on Aug. 19, 2008, when a link was made between Giles’ genetic profile and DNA found on the steering wheel. The chance of a random match to Giles was calculated at 1 in 580 million.

Coburn said the mere presence of DNA doesn’t mean Giles killed Berry, and she urged jurors to remember what experts said about how easily genetic evidence can be contaminated or deposited through routine human contact.

She accused detectives of developing tunnel vision. Among other things, she asked jurors to mull the significance of Giles’ genetic profile not being detected in a bloody handprint found inside the car, nor under the fingernails of Berry’s left hand.

“This is real science. This is real evidence. Bloody fingernails from the hand of the victim,” she said.

As the defense has done throughout the trial, Coburn zeroed in on mistakes that the police made over the years, including evidence that was mishandled and lost. She also questioned the credibility of prosecution witnesses, particularly a young man who came forward four years after the killing and provided police with a composite sketch of a man with a moustache and a mullet.

The witness said the man appeared to be hosing off blood at the car wash the night Berry died. At trial, he testified Giles was the man he saw all those years ago, although he also acknowledged picking out other people earlier who he believed were a close match.

The sketch was prepared nine years before Giles became a suspect through DNA testing. Those tests were done at three labs by multiple forensic scientists.

Prosecutors made a point at trial of showing that sketch along with photos of Giles from the mid 1990s. He had a moustache and wore his hair short in front and long in back.

Coburn drew chuckles when she showed the sketch, too, juxtaposed with images of men she said she found on the Internet. All had sharp noses, bushy moustaches and mullets. Among the photos she picked was one of the Greek musician Yanni.

None of those men have been connected by DNA to Berry’s car, the place of her death, countered deputy prosecutor Bob Langbehn.

As for finding other men’s DNA under Berry’s fingernails, the prosecutor said that result could be expected because Berry danced for tips at a strip club.

He said that was the only relevance her line of work played in the case. He then held up a photograph of Berry taken not long before her death. She was a daughter, a sister, a friend, a mom, he said.

“She was more than what she did,” Langbehn said.

Scott North: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @snorthnews

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