Bar News - March 21, 2008
Forensic Evidence in LaBarre Murder Case Insurmountable
By: Lara Bricker
The details of the forensic evidence linking accused killer Sheila LaBarre to the murders of two men of her acquaintance read like a script from the television show CSI.
As a result, the forensic evidence collected by the state will play a different role than it might have since LaBarre has opted to bypass the guilty-or-not-guilty phase of her trial and proceed with an insanity defense. Her trial is scheduled to begin before Judge Tina Nadeau in May of 2008 in Rockingham County Superior Court.
Following many days of investigation and excavations at the LaBarre farm, no bodies were found, but the evidence collected by the NH State Police Forensic Laboratory enabled a forensic radiologist to match bone fragments found in a burn pile to an old x-ray of murder victim Kenneth Countie’s hand. A blood pattern expert found that blood patterns in the house were consistent with an arterial gushing, a stabbing and blood dripping from a moving body. A DNA analysis on blood in the house matched Countie’s DNA and also that of another missing man, Michael Deloge. Some of Deloge’s personal effects were found after LaBarre’s septic system was pumped and its contents sifted through.
The case has included the use of a number of forensic experts by the attorney general’s office, LaBarre, 49, of Epping, admitted during an insanity plea hearing that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her of murdering Countie and Deloge, both former boyfriends who once lived with her at her sprawling Epping farm. Investigators did not find the body of either man but were able to tie LaBarre to the murders through analysis of burned bone fragments, old blood evidence and personal effects of the two men.
Prosecutor James Boffetti, of the attorney general’s office, declined to comment on the role forensic evidence has played in the case, citing the ongoing nature of the case. But Exeter attorney Rich Taylor, who with his partner Alex Yiokarinis is serving as local co-counsel on the case, said the use of forensic experts is a sign of the times.
Jurors Expect More Now
"It’s a credit to jurors," Taylor said. "Jurors are more informed every single day and they are educated in criminal justice in a way that continues to evolve. The closer the reality TV and movie drama get to real life, the more education people have in how heavy the burden of proof is for the state. People want CSI quality evidence and I think that is putting the state to task in collecting and analyzing its evidence."
Assistant Attorney General Kirstin Wilson detailed some of the forensic evidence in the case during LaBarre’s insanity plea hearing in February. When Epping Police went to LaBarre’s farm on March 24, 2006, they found a burn pile in front of her home with what they suspected were bones. Police later collected those bones and sent them to Dr. Marcella Sorg, a forensic anthropologist in Maine, who provided a report on the condition of the bones, which were both human and animal, according to Wilson. Sorg identified cranium, foot, pelvis, spine and lower arm bones and determined they were from a male person. She also identified bones from nine animal species. Based on the degraded condition of the charred bone fragments, Dr. Sorg felt that someone would have had to supervise their burning, adding an accelerant and turning the bones throughout the burning.
A dog from the state Fire Marshal’s office was brought to LaBarre’s property and "alerted," meaning it smelled an accelerant on the burned areas.
The bones were also sent to a lab in Pennsylvania for a mitochondrial DNA analysis but were too damaged for the test, Wilson said. All of the fingertips from a left hand were pieced together and those were sent to a forensic radiologist in Indiana, who was able to match them to an old x-ray of Kenneth Countie’s hand.
Criminalist Lisa Corson provided analysis of a bloody footprint found after LaBarre’s house was chemically processed with a blood enhancement reagent. Corson also found traces of blood in the sink, bathtub, floor and washing machine. In total, investigators collected 200 blood spatter swabs inside LaBarre’s house, Wilson said. Those were compared with a known DNA sample from Countie and a DNA sample from Deloge’s mother.
The testing showed that some of the blood was Countie’s and that some was a match for a child of Deloge’s mother. Several tiles around a bathtub upstairs had been removed and a reagent was used by investigators; it yielded blood samples that investigators tied to Deloge. From an air duct in the house they also collected a vomitous material which was tested for poison, Wilson said. There was no poison but it did show elevated levels of nicotine.
Blood-spatter Expert Studies Wall
The state hired forensic scientist Marilyn T. Miller, a blood-spatter expert, to evaluate blood patterns found inside LaBarre’s house. Miller is on the faculty at the Henry Lee Institute of Forensic Science at the University of New Haven and co-authored Henry Lee’s Crime Scene Handbook. To conduct her analysis, she studied a wall taken down from LaBarre’s house and then reconstructed inside the New Hampshire state police airplane hanger. Miller detected a large number of bloodstains of different shapes and sizes on the wall and she believes they resulted from recent bloodshed. Blood on the lower portion of the wall was consistent with small arterial gushes, she wrote in her report, likely resulting from the severing of an artery on the hand or arms.
Impact spatter, which is created from blunt force trauma or stabbing, was found in two areas on the wall. Blood on and around a wooden chair in the dining room was also consistent with a stabbing or blunt force trauma. "The stains on the floor are consistent with blood dripping from a moving body source," she said.
The kitchen cabinet doors and four drawers were also removed from the house and reassembled for Miller’s analysis. She found both recent and older blood. LaBarre’s attorneys initially filed a motion challenging Miller’s credentials as an expert in her field, but later withdrew the motion when the case moved to an insanity defense.
Though the list of forensic evidence is long, LaBarre’s attorneys declined to comment on its significance. Taylor did point out that "in this case, it’s the burden of the defense to prove insanity."*
In the March 21, 2008 issue of the Bar News, an editing decision resulted in the addition of a sentence in a story about the LaBarre homicide case not in the original article. It stated "The weight of that evidence led LaBarre’s attorneys to concede that it was substantial enough to indicate that LaBarre is guilty of two murders." LaBarre's attorneys declined to comment for this article on the role forensic evidence played in their client's decision to plead not guitly by reason of insanity.