Observations on Fingerprint Testimony

One of my pet peeves is the imprecise way in which many people relate information. It really bugs the crap out of me.

I am finally getting around to reading the transcripts from the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial that were just donated by a generous benefactor this past week. For some reason, I started with Day 42: Testimony of Elena Graff.

On page 27 Graff testifies to defense attorney Watkins that they were only able to process one print from one piece of cardboard out of the over 500 pieces of evidence collected from Boylston Street and that print belonged to Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Then it is Weinreb’s turn:

Q: How many items did you say on Boylston Street were tested for fingerprints?
A: Over 500
Q: Specifically, they were all tested for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s fingerprints and Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s fingerprints?
A: That is correct.

NOW HERE IS WHERE HE GETS TRICKY: Instead of staying with his original thought and finishing it by asking how many good prints they were able to develop (answer was one, remember) and of that one, whose was it (Tamerlan’s), Weinreb goes in another direction altogether:

Q: And those items included many, many pieces of the bomb that exploded at Scene A, correct?
A: That is correct.
Q: And many pieces of the components that was in that bomb?
A: That is correct.
Q: It included pieces of the backpack that the bomb was carried in?
A: That is correct.
Q: Yet, you found usable prints from Tamerlan Tsarnaev or the defendant on only a single item, a piece of cardboard that was in many pieces?
A: Two pieces of cardboard.

Weinreb was so slick in the way he worded his questions and in the order that he asked them that Graff did not catch him and correct him with her answer. If she had, she would have responded this way:

A: We found one usable print from Tamerlan Tsarnaev on a single piece of cardboard and none from the defendant.

I believe Weinreb is trying to plant it in the jurors’ minds that a print of Dzhokhar’s was found on bomb fragments. Watkins doesn’t catch it and object. Not yet anyway.

Weinreb goes back to how many pieces of cardboard, how many items tested from Site B on Boylston Street. He continues getting answers to what type items were found and tested. Then he does it again:

Q: And, yet, once again, you only found a single fingerprint from Tamerlan Tsarnaev or Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on only a single item, which was a piece of paper inside the shreds of the backpack?
A: There were two palm prints, but yes.
Q: But it was just on that single item?
A: That is correct.

Again the witness does not correct Weinreb and tell him the single print found was not from Tamerlan or Dzhokhar, it was from Tamerlan. It is not important to know about number of pieces of cardboard or if it was cardboard or paper etc. What is important in the final analysis is whose fingerprints are on any items that were connected to this crime.

Then after Weinreb makes his sarcastic remarks about bombs not building themselves and backpacks not carrying themselves on the scene, which I thoroughly enjoyed, he reframes the testimony of the witness for a third time:

Q: So what could explain the absence of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s AND Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s fingerprints on MORE of these items?

At this point Watkins finally objects but the judge overrules and it is unclear yet as to why Watkins is objecting. I was hoping it was because he finally caught what Weinreb was subtly suggesting and he wanted to set the record straight.

To get technical and precise about it, Weinreb should have asked:

Q: So what could explain the absence of Dzhokhar’s fingerprints on ALL of these items that were collected from the scene and the absence of Tamerlan’s fingerprints on MOST of these items?

Then Watkins begins his Redirect Examination. Right away it appears he may have caught what Weinreb was doing and he is indeed going to clarify for the jury that NO fingerprints from Dzhokhar were found on materials collected from Boylston Street. Remember the one item a print from Tamerlan was found on at the blast site was a piece of cardboard.

As soon as Watkins says “Referring back to Q199, which is the pieces of cardboard…” he is immediately prevented from finishing his question by Weinreb stating:

“Your Honor, I object to this. Can we be seen at sidebar?”

This is ridiculous; Weinreb has no clue what Watkins is going to ask and yet he is already objecting. I believe he is afraid Watkins has caught on to his subtle reframing of what was testified about whose print was found on that piece of cardboard and he is not taking any chances.

When they get to sidebar, he starts with a smoke-and-mirrors routine and sadly, he may or may not have made Watkins forget part of what he was going to ask on Redirect.

I hope the defense pays better attention during the appeal.

Published by: iwasleah10years

Winston Churchill said no crime is so great as daring to excel. I am ready to take that dare. An unexpected and somewhat unexplainable compassion for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has drawn me out of my comfort zone.


3 thoughts on “Observations on Fingerprint Testimony”

  1. Great blog Lynn!! These transcripts really just prove what I always thought since the beginning….plain and simple➡ defense did not give their client 100% of defense. What is also quite clear is Jahar is innocent. There were no fingerprints! Clear indication puppet O’Toole and deaf jury were just plain ignoring hard core facts….Jahar didn’t do it.

  2. Good article. It is even more evident that the ‘deal’ was that Dzhokhar was to be found guilty. There are a few instances where defense asks a question – then sidebar – O’Fool agreed with the defense – then defense asks a totally different question leaving us in the dark.

    1. I got the definite impression many times during testimony from this witness that no one really cared what was being said and that the judge was there to be disruptive and ask arbitrary questions to disrupt the flow. This would have had an affect on impact of testimony on jurors. It also was amazing how one time Weinreb calls an item paper then next time same item is piece of cardboard that was in two pieces. The imprecise language used in such an important conversation drove me nuts.

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