Monday Mar 09 2009
Prosecution calls DNA expert in Kovacich hearing
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
Defense expected to bring more witnesses
Prosecutors recalled a DNA expert to the stand in an effort to solidify a murder conviction for Paul Kovacich Jr. Monday. In January, the former Placer County Sheriff’s sergeant was convicted of murder with the use of a firearm in the Sept. 8, 1982 death and disappearance of his wife, Janet Kovacich. Following that conviction, defense attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case based on pre-trial prejudice. In the motion to dismiss filed by Paul Kovacich’s public defender, attorney John Spurling asserts that his client was not able to present evidence or witnesses that could have helped exonerate him. On Friday, the hearing to dismiss the case began with public defenders John Spurling and Mike Skanga calling forward a former Placer County Sheriff’s Office employee and forensic DNA expert. The former sheriff’s employee was used as an attempt to show that investigators did not interview potentially important witnesses during the early and latter days of the investigation. Also, forensic DNA expert Norah Rudin testified that in her opinion, Janet Kovacich’s skull could have been tested about 10 years earlier than its 2006 test date. On Monday, prosecutor Dave Tellman brought senior criminalist Colleen Spurgeon into the courtroom. Spurgeon, a state Department of Justice employee, testified during Paul Kovacich’s four-month long trial. Spurgeon was the criminalist who tested a skull Placer law enforcement officials sent to her in 2006. The skull, originally found in a Rollins Lake overflow pond in October 1995, turned out to be Janet Kovacich’s. During the hearing, Spurgeon said she was “very certain” that she would not have been able to identify the thin skull she received as that of Janet Kovacich’s until about 2005. It wasn’t until then, she said, that the department had the technology or technique to amplify DNA from degraded bone to successfully determine to whom that bone belonged. She added that the California Department of Justice didn’t establish a missing persons program lab until 2002. Even then, she said, it took “a lot of outreach” to let law enforcement agencies know they could send in bone samples. The hearing is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Dept. 4 of the historic courthouse in Auburn. The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment.