Last Updated: Monday, June 26, 2000, 3 p.m.
Fitzhugh attorney challenges police testimony
by Jennifer Kavanaugh
Kenneth Fitzhugh's lawyer tried to raise questions today about investigators' handling of blood and other evidence in the murder of his client's wife, Kristine, as the court hearing to review evidence stretched into its second day.
Defense attorney Thomas Nolan questioned two people involved with gathering the blood evidence in the Fitzhughs' basement and kitchen. Through his questioning of the two witnesses--a police officer charged with taking the blood samples and a lab criminologist who sprayed a chemical to determine the presence of hidden blood--Nolan argued that neither could say absolutely whether the blood traces were old or recently cleaned up.
The attorneys in the case, along with Fitzhugh, were gathered in a Palo Alto courtroom this morning for the preliminary hearing, which will determine whether the prosecution has enough evidence to hold Fitzhugh over for trial. The proceedings were scheduled to continue this afternoon.
Both Nolan and Deputy District Attorney Michael Fletcher, who laid out their arguments before Superior Court Judge Charles Hayden, spent most of their time discussing blood evidence found in the Fitzhugh home.
Police and prosecutors say Fitzhugh killed his wife in the kitchen of their Escobita Avenue home and dragged her body down to the basement to stage an accidental fall. They say chemical testing revealed more than 70 blood spatters in the kitchen.
Fitzhugh has pleaded not guilty to the crime.
When questioning David Chun of the Santa Clara County Crime Lab--who sprayed the chemical luminol in the home to uncover blood traces--Nolan drew out answers suggesting that technicians can't determine whether the blood was new or from older injuries; that paramedics or the couple's pets could have tracked blood elsewhere and altered the blood stains; and that there was no fail-proof way to tell if wipe marks left in the blood were the result of the killer attempting to clean up the scene or by officers taking blood samples.
In the court records, police say Fitzhugh tried to clean up all of the obvious blood stains in the kitchen. Nolan has made comments suggesting the blood stains found in the kitchen were older and not related to Kristine's death. He asked Chun whether the bloody footprints found in the kitchen could be the result of someone trying to clean up the blood--suggesting either a bad cleanup job or evidence that the stains predate the May 5 killing.
"If you did a good enough job of cleaning it, you wouldn't see anything," Chun said, referring to the footprints.
A heated exchange also took place in court over a cell phone call Fitzhugh received the day his wife was killed, when an employee from the school district called the suspect and stated that Kristine, a music teacher, had missed her afternoon class. Fitzhugh told police he was traveling southbound on Highway 101, near the Woodside Road exit in Redwood City.
The prosecution's witness, Paul Brumley of GTE Wireless, which handled Fitzhugh's cell phone service, testified that a Palo Alto antenna on University Avenue handled the call and that Fitzhugh's phone could not be as far away as Woodside Road without another facility receiving the transmission. Brumley's testimony implied that Fitzhugh was much closer to a Palo Alto antenna, placing him closer to the Fitzhughs' home near the time Kristine was killed.
But under Nolan's questioning, Brumley admitted he couldn't quote the range of the Palo Alto antenna or whether another antenna was closer to Woodside Road. Brumley also couldn't produce maps showing the range of the antennas and said he was not involved in the test cell-phone call made for the district attorney's office.
"You based it on what the attorney told you instead of relying on your experience as a fraud investigator with GTE?" Nolan asked hotly. "Yes," Brumley responded.
Judge Hayden told Brumley to return this afternoon with maps of the company's cell-phone antennas and ranges.