Troconis jury hears from forensic experts about hair, potential blood found on evidence in Dulos case
Two retired forensic experts, who worked at the state lab, took the stand Friday during Michelle Troconis’ trial. In what was Day 16, they explained to the jury how they processed and tested evidence collected in the disappearance and presumed murder of New Canaan mom, Jennifer Dulos. Most of the testimony focused on items pulled from garbage can on Albany Avenue in Hartford.
Anita Vailonis, who was in the forensic biology unit, went piece by piece through every item she tested for blood or swabbed for touch DNA. That included black Husky gloves, a rubber gardening glove and the top of a trash bag.
At one point, Vailonis held up the trash bag to the jury and explained her thought process on where she did swabs.
“Imagine that the bag was knotted, and someone may have been handling this bag like this,” Vailonis explained, grabbing the area above where a knot would’ve been.
Vailonis also testified she determined that five fibers were human hairs, most of them with tissue at the root, which she also forwarded on to the DNA unit for testing. She said the hairs were found on a clear plastic bag, a towel, a sponge, and entangled in the knot of a black trash bag, along with the interior of a red Toyota Tacoma. Police believe Fotis Dulos drove the pickup truck to New Canaan, where he allegedly killed his estranged wife in her garage.
On cross examination, Troconis’ attorney Jon Schoenhorn said the evidence could’ve easily been contaminated and spread to other items in the garbage can because of how the evidence was collected.
“So, dumping everything from that barrel into one larger construction bag and bringing it someplace else. Would that not be in the protocol as you understand it?” Schoenhorn asked.
Vailonis strongly defended what police did. "I don't see any alternative. Would you like them to spread it out on paper and go through this garbage can item by item on a city street?” she responded, seemingly incredulous. “I would, personally, also bag that and take it back to secure location and sort through it.”
Schoenhorn expounded on the possibility for contamination, such as blood from a shirt getting on a sponge, when he spoke with reporters outside the courthouse. “Even though there's the infamous video of Fotis Dulos putting a black garbage bag in a receptacle in Hartford, when they arrived, someone had already picked through that—whether it was that homeless person or someone else, which they didn't show. It was just all displayed and splayed out in that trash barrel,” Schoenhorn said.
The day began with Schoenhorn finishing his cross examination of Christine Roy, who testified for much of Thursday. Roy was also in the forensic biology unit at the state lab and said she split the testing of evidence in the Jennifer Dulos case with Vailonis.
Schoenhorn brought up the cutting from a car seat Roy examined. It came from one of two seats police believe was in the Tacoma on May 24, 2019, when Jennifer Dulos died. Earlier in the week, retired Sgt. Matthew Reilly testified about doing a presumptive blood test on the seat in the field and getting a positive result, after which he cut out the area and sent it to the lab. In court that day, there was a bit of a back and forth between Schoenhorn and Reilly about that cutting. Schoenhorn said it was never confirmed to be blood while Reilly said he believed it was, though he’d defer to the lab examiner, who was Roy.
“You did not see any visible sign of any staining of any sort on it, correct? Schoenhorn asked Roy.
“On this entire piece? No,” Roy responded.
“So, if somebody identified it as a bloodlike stain—you saw nothing to support that, correct?” Schoenhorn said.
“Visually? No,” Roy answered.
Schoenhorn also again, hammered the fact that not all the evidence was given a confirmatory blood test for human blood after the initial screening test for blood. Roy testified Thursday that she did confirmatory testing on the heavily stained striped shirt and bra, along with a white-hardish material that had a reddish-brown stain. In court Friday, the jury saw a close-up picture of that item.
Roy explained she didn’t do more confirmatory tests because it would possibly degrade and use up the sample, and she wanted to preserve the sample for testing by the DNA unit.
“If you'd done a confirmatory blood test, it would've told you human blood is indicated, but DNA can actually give information about who may have contributed to a profile, is that correct?” asked Assistant State’s Attorney Sean McGuinness.
“That’s correct,” Roy said. “If I'm sending them less sample, then potentially I’m reducing the amount that's in that sample,” Roy said.
Once court adjourned for the day, Schoenhorn expounded on his objections to the judge allowing the prosecution to present evidence that was possibly blood but not confirmed.
“I have to object to that because even though it's not about Michelle Troconis—it’s not about her blood—it just keeps coming in, and it's not all blood. So the idea that, ‘there was that much blood, how could someone not notice’ is really not born out by what the actual evidence is,” Schoenhorn told reporters.
Troconis’ name did not come up in testimony the past two days. Troconis is accused of plotting Jennifer Dulos’ murder with her then-boyfriend, helping try to hide the crime, and lying to police. She’s pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit murder, evidence tampering, conspiracy to commit evidence tampering, and hindering prosecution.
“I've said all along, this is really the trial of Fotis Dulos, and I'm not either keen to be defending him nor is it my job,” Schoenhorn said. But in order to prove some of these charges, the state has taken upon itself the obligation to prove that Fotis Dulos didn't just hurt his wife—didn’t even just cause her death—but he murdered her.”
Fotis Dulos died by suicide in January 2020 while facing murder and other charges in the case. Troconis is the first defendant to stand trial. Kent Mawhinney, Fotis Dulos’ friend and former attorney, is also charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
Court adjourned early Friday and resumes at 10 a.m. Monday. It’s likely the jury will hear from a DNA expert about the evidence from Hartford and the Tacoma that was sent to her.
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