DNA does not match suspect, expert says

Thursday, May 3, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:23 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Rodney Cunningham, right, talks with his attorney, Richard French, during a court recess on Monday. Cunningham is accused of killing Carlos Kelly in March 2006.

The DNA expert who analyzed evidence from the crime scene where Carlos Kelly was slain last year told jurors on Wednesday that test results did not match the DNA collected from the man on trial for killing Kelly.

Kelly was found beaten to death in his northwest Columbia home on the morning of March 28, 2006. A friend of Kelly’s girlfriend returned to the apartment shortly after the killing and found Kelly, 34, dead and his girlfriend bound with duct tape.

Rodney Cunningham, 30, is the third suspect brought to trial in connection with Kelly’s murder.

One of Cunningham’s friends, Travis Midgyett, 27, is accused of being an accomplice. His case was brought to trial earlier this year, but jurors were unable to reach a verdict, and 13th District Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton declared a mistrial.

In September 2006, the first-degree robbery and second-degree murder charges against a third man, Felson Barney, 29, were dropped after an eyewitness whose testimony placed Barney at the crime scene recanted his statement.

Stacey Bolinger, a Missouri State Highway Patrol DNA analyst, testified that DNA collected from a variety of items at the crime scene, including skin cells found under Kelly’s fingernails and hair found on the duct tape used to bind his arms and legs, did not match Cunningham or Midgyett’s DNA.

Bolinger said that the DNA was a mixture of the DNA from Kelly and an unidentified person.

Columbia Police Sgt. Matt Stevens was the first law enforcement official to reach the scene. He said the apartment “looked like it had been ransacked.”

Police who were at the scene testified that the messy state of the apartment hampered the collection of trace evidence, including skin cells, blood or hair for DNA analysis.

When Nicole Gorovsky, Boone County assistant prosecuting attorney, asked Bolinger if it is possible to enter and exit a house without leaving DNA, Bolinger said yes.

In her opening statement, Govorsky told the jury common sense will show them Cunningham is guilty.

“This case will be about common sense and corroboration,” Gorovsky said.

Gorovsky told the jury that Cunningham and two other men forced their way into Kelly’s apartment early on the morning of March 28, 2006 and tried to rob him of drugs and money. When he refused, one of the men struck Kelly on the head with a landscaping timber, causing severe brain hemorrhaging and death.

But Public Defender Richard French said he will present witnesses who can place Cunningham at a hotel across town at the time of the murder. During his opening statement, French also said there is no physical evidence linking Cunningham to the crime scene.

The jury heard testimony from Angela Young, the friend of Carlos Kelly’s girlfriend who was first to arrive at the scene.

Young said she had left to get food from McDonald’s, and when she returned men were standing outside the apartment and in the doorway. She said that she helped them look for money and drugs, but none were found. After the men left, Young checked Kelly to see if he was alive, but said she could not feel a pulse. When the prosecution asked why she reported the crime to the police, she said, “I knew I had to get to the police and tell the truth. Hopefully they could catch who did it.”

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