For the first time in the preliminary hearing into the October 2009 sexual assault of a Richmond High student, a witness provided testimony that directly implicates defendant John Crane Jr. in the events. DNA from evidence collected at the scene also links strongly to three other defendants.
DNA expert David Stockwell testified Wednesday that he cross-referenced DNA evidence collected at the scene with 14 separate DNA samples from the victim, all the defendants, and six persons of suspicion—who were interviewed by police as witnesses to the assault but not charged in connection with the crime. Stockwell is a forensics supervisor for the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office.
Stockwell said he conducted a number of tests on sperm cell DNA collected by swabs from different areas of the girl’s body. A lot of this evidence, as well as DNA found on items collected from the scene, closely matched Crane’s DNA profile. The evidence implicating Crane included DNA from swabs of the victim’s vagina, mouth, and buttocks, clippings of her dress and underwear, and swabs of the antenna of a walkie-talkie, and an E&J bottle of brandy.
It remains unclear how exactly Crane’s DNA material was so prevalent while no testimony has yet linked him to Richmond High School on the night of the assault.
Crane’s private attorney, Dustin Gordon, declined to comment about Stockwell’s testimony. However, in an interview two months ago, Gordon’s law partner—Collin Cooper—stated that of the few dozen witnesses interviewed by police, “not one said there was a middle-aged black man at the scene at all that night.”
“I find that quite bizarre,” Cooper said. “My client is 43 and black.”
Crane, who is now 44, turned himself in to police in mid-January—days after police offered a reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction in connection with the sexual assault of the Richmond High student. Crane’s attorney and Richmond police have each provided opposing accounts of Crane’s criminal history. Police have described Crane—without detailing specific incidents—as an ex-con with a violent history of crime. Cooper, who has represented Crane in the past, said his client has never spent time in prison, and his only prior offense was a pleaded-out drug charge.
In Judge Gregory Caskey’s courtroom yesterday, Crane stared forward, revealing no emotion—much like he has done throughout the hearing’s 16 days—as the DNA expert continued the testimony that implicated Crane.
In addition to multiple DNA matches to Crane—with a high statistical probability of accuracy—were also matches to three other defendants: Manuel Ortega, Jose Montano, and Marcelles Peter.
Ortega’s DNA closely matched DNA from sperm cells found on swabs of the victim’s mouth and a suction injury on her neck. The DNA expert testified that he found semen on Ortega’s shirt and underwear that are a strong match to Ortega’s DNA.
Ortega’s attorney, Public Defender Jack Funk, said in an interview—weeks before the hearing began—that the “DNA is not a big part of the case relative to my client,” and that it could actually help his client. Funk has yet to cross-examine Stockwell.
The DNA expert also detailed his findings from the used condom that officers had previously testified was found in a blackberry bush on the northern fence line of the courtyard where the assault took place.
On the condom was non-sperm cell DNA that closely matched Peter’s DNA sample as well as the victim’s DNA profile. Of the sperm cell DNA found on the condom—which had a tear on the shaft—Stockwell testified that it was difficult to determine whether there were two or three matches. He said Crane was a likely match and Peter was a possible match.
Stockwell also identified non-sperm cell DNA from a discarded condom wrapper found at the scene as a probable match with defendant Jose Montano.
None of the DNA Stockwell analyzed matched reference samples for defendants Cody Smith, Ari Morales, or Elvis Torrentes. Stockwell did, however, find DNA linking to at least two unidentified males who were not represented in the 14 samples from defendants and persons of suspicion.
One of the samples linking to an unidentified male was sperm cell DNA found on the vaginal swab of the victim.
This information contradicts what District Attorney Dara Cashman told Richmond Confidential a month prior to the start of the preliminary hearing. Cashman said that of the DNA evidence she had received to date, none links to anyone beyond those who’ve already been charged.
The preliminary hearing will continue today at 9 a.m. with the cross-examination of Stockwell in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez.