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Ross defense witnesses challenge officers’ testimony

Forensic scientist calls attention to footprint details

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A witness testifying in defense of Paul Aaron Ross called attention Friday to four different types of footprints state police identified at Canoe Creek State Park when investigating the 2004 death of 26-year-old Tina S. Miller of Hollidaysburg.

Matthew J. Marvin, a Collinsville, Miss., forensic scientist whose specialties include footwear comparisons, detailed the differences to a Blair County jury that will be deciding, as early as Monday, if Ross, 48, should be convicted of first-degree murder and sexual assault charges in Miller’s death.

Ross’ trial, which started April 13, was scheduled to end Friday but it’s extending into next week for last-minute witnesses, closing arguments, judicial instructions and deliberations. In addition, if the jury convicts Ross of first-degree murder, then the jury will need additional time to consider a life-in-prison or death sentence.

President Judge Elizabeth Doyle, who is presiding over the trial, dismissed the jury at nearly 6 p.m. Friday and advised them not to come to any conclusion as the trial nears an end.

“You may be presented with additional witnesses,” she said.

Marvin, who testified about the four types of footprints found during the investigation into Miller’s death, identified Miller’s footprints based on the tread on the bottom of her boots.

Marvin also identified footprints based on the tread of an Adidas Samba shoe, the footwear that Ross wore regularly, according to witnesses called by the prosecution.

A third type of footprint, Marvin said, was made by someone wearing a Chevron Osiris Screw shoe. Trial testimony, so far, hasn’t linked that shoe to anyone in particular.

The fourth footprint didn’t provide enough detail to identify a specific source, Marvin said.

Marvin also challenged testimony offered earlier in the trial by Sgt. Anthony Delucio, a state police regional crime lab examiner, who said his tests showed the Adidas Samba footprint reflected a shoe size of 8 to 10.5.

“I don’t think you can pinpoint the size (range) of 8 to 10.5,” Marvin said after explaining the effort he put forth to examine the footprint and factors influencing its size.

His conclusion was that the shoe size cannot be determined. After Delucio came up with a size range of 8 to 10.5, Marvin said state police didn’t look at suspects outside that range.

Retired District Attorney Richard Consiglio, lead prosecutor, challenged Marvin’s testimony by asking him about the locations of the footprints he examined. Marvin acknowledged that he knew the location of only three footprints. He described them as being at the top of trail based on a police video he reviewed.

Those three prints were 70 to 80 yards away from Miller’s body, Consiglio said in questioning Marvin.

Consiglio also asked Marvin if his examination showed that the Adidas Samba footprints “go down the path” to where Miller’s body was found while the Chevron Osiris Screw footprints were “up on the top of the trail.”

Marvin said he didn’t know the location of those footprints.

Defense attorney Thomas M. Dickey also arranged for video testimony by Skip Palenik of Elgin, Ill., who has rendered trace evidence analysis in several high-profile cases, including the Oklahoma City bombing, the JonBenet Ramsey case and the Hillside Strangler investigation.

Palenik criticized the efforts and testimony of state police forensic scientist John Evans of Harrisburg, who concluded that the dirt found on the cover of a videocassette tape at Ross’ residence could have come from Canoe Creek State Park.

Earlier testimony indicated that Ross had that videotape in his possession when he and Miller were dropped off at the state park by Jim Fees. They and others had been at Fees’ residence during the early morning hours of June 27, 2004. Fees, who testified earlier in the trial, said the videocassette was new and without dirt or damage when he lent it to Ross.

Palenik said that Evans made “a preliminary comparison” to reach a conclusion that “could” be accurate. Palenik offered a chart outlining several additional steps that need to be undertaken.

“His conclusion is a guess,” Palenik said. “To make an inference that the soil came from (Canoe Creek State Park) is pure conjecture.”

On Friday, Dickey also presented the jury with a reading of testimony that had been offered in 2005 by Christopher Michael Leonard, an Altoona man who has since died.

Leonard had testified that about three days after Miller’s death, he contacted state police to advise that he had seen a white truck parked at Canoe Creek State Park on the day Miller was found dead.

Ross has claimed that after he and Miller were dropped off at the park, she made a phone call and a man in a white truck showed up to give her a ride. Leonard said he had been fishing that day and wondered about the white truck, which he said was parked the wrong way on the road.

Ross was tried in 2005 and convicted of first-degree murder in Miller’s death. But that conviction and a life-in-prison sentence were vacated in 2011 when the state Superior Court ordered a new trial based on what it recognized as valid appeal issues.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay

Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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