Framed?

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 28, 2010

This tidy explanation meant that the fingerprints on the glass were not made by the shooter after all — and therefore, there was no need to pursue the question of who really made them, because they were made by an innocent kid.

The happenstance nature of Foilb’s discovery struck at least one of Smith’s team members as bizarre, that individual told the Phoenix, asking that his name not be used because he was not supposed to comment on the case.

Foilb had “observed similarities,” Smith wrote in his report, between the misidentified thumbprint and the thumbprint on McEwen’s “elimination print card” — an index-card-size form on which detectives take sets of fingerprints from people, like McEwen, who might have innocently touched crime-scene evidence. They are supposed to be checked against crime-scene prints, so that the prints of those not under suspicion can be “eliminated.”

The elimination cards Foilb had come across carried the date June 3, 1997 — four days after the shooting — and were taken from McEwen, his sister Jackie, and their mother, Bonnie Lacy. Those are the three individuals who said they were in the house when the shooter entered. The inked fingerprints are on one side of the cards; the other side has signatures of both the person making the prints and the officer taking the prints, in this case Detective John F. Callahan.

But all of the signatures on those three “June 3” elimination cards are forgeries, including Callahan’s, according to Ronald Rice, a nationally recognized handwriting analyst and president of Checkmate Forensic Services in Plymouth, whom the Phoenix consulted about the cards.

The sudden appearance of these cards, just as the investigation into the wrongful conviction was beginning, was strange enough to draw the attention of some individuals involved with the case. One tells the Phoenix that it was improper for Foilb to have been handling the materials at all, since he had been directly involved in the Cowans case. (Foilb had been LeBlanc and McLaughlin’s supervisor at the time.)

The Smith team, in its report, also commented on the oddity of the sudden appearance of those “June 3” elimination cards — particularly odd, because the trial evidence included another set of elimination cards, taken from the same people, by the same detective, but dated two days earlier: June 1, 1997.

Rice believes that all of the signatures on those June 1, 1997, cards are also forgeries.

That set of cards was created prior to Cowans’s 1998 trial. One of them — the one for Bonnie Lacy — was shown by prosecutors to jurors, as LeBlanc identified the second fingerprint on the glass mug as coming from Lacy’s left ring finger.

The Smith team raised questions about the sudden appearance of that elimination card at the trial, noting that LeBlanc and McLaughlin appeared to be unaware of any elimination cards even as they testified — they claimed to have only discovered the match to Lacy after bringing her in to ink a separate set of prints just as the trial began. The Phoenix, which, again, has been able to access much of the existing original case materials, could find no mention of these elimination cards in any reports or list of evidence, until they were submitted as evidence at the trial.

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