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DNA found likely Ross’

Forensic manager pinpointed greater likelihood during re-examination of autopsy materials

HOLLIDAYSBURG — DNA in the mouth of a 26-year-old Hollidaysburg woman found dead in 2004 at Canoe Creek State Park more likely belongs to Paul Aaron Ross than any other male, a forensic pathologist told a Blair County jury on Wednesday.

Jeffrey Zachetti, forensic DNA manager for the state police crime laboratory at Greensburg, said he pinpointed that greater likelihood in 2014 while using updated DNA testing procedures to re-examine materials collected during Tina S. Miller’s autopsy.

Miller and Ross were last seen together at the state park in the early morning hours of June 27, 2004, where a friend dropped them off near Ross’ residence.

After her partly clothed, beaten and mutilated body was found a few hours later, Ross claimed that he and Miller had separated when she got a ride with a man in a white pickup truck.

Using a microscopic slide prepared in 2004 from a swab of Miller’s gums, Zachetti said he was able to swab that slide in 2014, then undertake some additional tests.

His results, Zachetti said, showed two DNAs and a much greater likelihood that they belonged to Miller and Ross as opposed to Miller and someone else.

“It’s 7.1 million times more likely,” Zachetti told prosecutor Richard Consiglio, retired district attorney, who asked Zachetti about his related ratio calculations.

Zachetti also testified that the DNA he identified likely came from sperm. He said he reached that conclusion based on his testing and recognition that DNA associated with sperm is stronger and doesn’t degrade easily.

“It’s much more likely that this DNA came from (Ross’) sperm than from his kissing Tina Miller,” Zachetti said.

Earlier testimony indicated that Miller and Ross were seen kissing at the Scotch Valley residence of their friend who gave them a ride to the state park.

Zachetti testified late Wednesday afternoon about his updated DNA testing results, but Ross’ trial nearly came to a halt in the late morning hours before he testified. That’s when attorneys started sparring over the ability of witnesses to reference a P30 protein identified in the swab of Miller’s gums.

While the P30 protein is associated with the prostate gland, seminal fluid and semen, testifying prosecution witnesses were asked by defense attorneys, Thomas M. Dickey and Thomas Hooper, to avoid those references. The P30 protein, witnesses acknowledged, can be created by other sources, including breast tissue, blood and tumors.

When a witness again referenced seminal fluid, Dickey and Hooper asked for a mistrial, claiming that the jury had heard testimony it shouldn’t have.

President Judge Elizabeth Doyle denied the mistrial request, then instructed Consiglio to talk with his witness in the hallway before the witness returned to the stand. In the hallway, however, one of the jurors returning from a restroom break passed by Consiglio talking to the witness. Dickey and Hooper, also within earshot, again suggested a mistrial.

Doyle, however, talked to every juror about the alleged breach, then decided the trial should proceed without a change to the jury.

While Ross was tried and convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder in connection with Miller’s death, the state Superior Court awarded Ross a new trial in 2011 after recognizing the validity of issues raised on appeal. Subsequent legal arguments kept Ross’ new trial on hold until December when it was canceled in light of an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Prosecutors are expected to present their remaining witnesses today before resting their case.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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