Testimony turns to forensics in Reno murder trial
RENO (AP) – Testimony turned to forensics Tuesday in the trial of a man charged with killing a young woman and sexually assaulting two others near the University of Nevada, Reno campus.
Detectives and crime scene experts began explaining the collection and analysis of evidence that prosecutors argue will convict James Biela of the rape and strangulation of Brianna Denison.
Denison, 19, was sleeping on a couch at a friend’s house when she vanished Jan. 20, 2008. Her body was found about a month later in a vacant lot in a south Reno business district.
According to police, two pairs of women’s thong underwear were tucked beneath one of her legs. At a previous hearing, investigators said one pair contained DNA from three people: Denison, the friend she had been staying with and her attacker.
Authorities have said evidence and a victim description also link Biela to two, earlier separate sexual assaults in October 2007 and last December that occurred in the same neighborhood where Denison was last seen.
Biela is charged with three counts of sexual assault, kidnapping and murder. He faces a possible death penalty if convicted of murder.
The trial before Washoe District Court Robert Perry began May 10. Prosecutors have said they may finish presenting their case by the end of the week.
Biela, 28, a pipe fitter who trained in martial arts, was arrested in November after an anonymous tip was received from a woman who said Biela’s former girlfriend and the mother of his child confided in her about finding thong underwear in Biela’s pickup truck when she went to visit him in Washington state.
Police said he left the Reno area shortly after Denison’s body was found and sold his truck in Idaho along the way.
Tom Broome, a retired Reno Police detective, was among the first investigators to respond to the home where Denison was staying after attending a concert with friends.
Broome testified Tuesday that he accompanied a crime scene technician to Idaho to process evidence inside the truck Biela had sold.
Prosecutors earlier told jurors that fibers from carpeting in the truck were found on socks Denison was wearing when her body was found.
Under questioning by defense attorneys, Broome acknowledged that the truck had been detailed at least twice between the time Biela sold it and the time it was purchased by a couple in Idaho.
Candace Potts, an investigator with the Washoe County sheriff’s office, told jurors she collected DNA samples from doors, doorknobs and other surfaces at the house Denison was last seen. Potts said she found DNA belonging to those who lived at the house, as well as “foreign” DNA found on a back doorknob. Prosecutors maintain that DNA belonged to Biela.