Prosecution grills defense’s ballistics expert

Greg M. Schwartz

Ballistics expert Larry Dehus answers questions yesterday in the Portage County Court of Common Pleas.

Credit: Steve Schirra

RAVENNA – Jurors in the James E. Trimble trial have the day off today while the attorneys in the case and Judge John Enlow confer about aspects of the case, setting the stage for final arguments Monday.

Yesterday’s proceedings in the Trimble trial at the Portage County Court of Common Pleas were dominated by questioning of the defense’s ballistics expert, Larry Dehus.

It appeared that public defenders Dennis Lager and John Laczko attempted to use Dehus’ analysis of the bullet holes at victim Sarah Positano’s apartment as support for Trimble’s claim that a law enforcement agent entered the Ranfield Road apartment and startled Trimble into accidentally shooting Positano.

Dehus, a forensic scientist who owns and operates the Law Science Technologies forensic testing lab in West Milton, had both his credentials and methods grilled extensively by assistant prosecutor Fran Riccardi in a grueling series of cross-examinations. Dehus’ time on the witness stand occupied the better part of four hours.

During the first cross-examination, Riccardi grilled Dehus about his education in ballistics, the study of the motion of projectiles. Dehus said he had taken two undergraduate physics courses at Otterbein University but no advanced physics classes.

Dehus did claim a Master’s in biology from Wright State as well as training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. He also said he has worked over 150 crime scenes and been able to determine bullet trajectories many times.

Riccardi objected to Dehus being deemed an expert, saying that there was no validation of his training. After further questioning, the state still objected. Judge John Enlow acknowledged the state’s objection, but accepted Dehus as an expert.

Riccardi continued with questioning of Dehus about his knowledge of gun testing, trajectory-measuring methods and analysis of diagrams of the crime scene made by John Saraya, an Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation agent.

Dehus testified about visiting the Ranfield Road crime scene on Aug. 5 to evaluate ballistic evidence. He said he took issue with Saraya’s report on the bullet holes in Positano’s apartment. Saraya’s report concluded that each of the bullet holes came from shots fired outside the apartment. But Dehus’ examination of trajectory data led him to draw another conclusion.

“Based on that trajectory – it had to originate within the interior of the living room,” Dehus said of one of the holes. He went on to assert that Saraya had not performed a complete analysis of the scene.

Lager asked Dehus if Saraya had the capacity to use methods such as probes, string analysis, angularity and laser sighting to determine trajectory of the bullets.

“But for sticking some probes in a couple of (bullet) holes, did he do any of that stuff?” Lager asked.

“Not that I have determined,” Dehus said. “He did not do a complete analysis of the trajectories. He failed to do any measurements to determine relationships.”

During re-cross, Riccardi challenged Dehus again.

“You couldn’t pinpoint where the holes were (due to clean up of the crime scene), and if you were off just a little bit then wouldn’t that make your calculations inaccurate?” Riccardi asked.

“Yes, but I relied on the measurements taken by Saraya,” Dehus replied.

Earlier, the defense continued Tuesday’s line of questioning toward police regarding the treatment of Trimble when he was taken into custody. As on Tuesday, the defense showed several photos of Trimble at Robinson Memorial Hospital with a bloody nose, abrasions on his face and a bump above his left eye. But once again, none of the officers questioned remembered seeing the injuries.

Lager asked the Stow Police Department’s Sgt. Jeffrey Film if he’d ever heard of a brotherhood between police officers known as a “code of silence,” which would prevent officers from acknowledging crimes by other officers.

“Only in the movies,” Film said.

Contact public affairs reporter Greg M. Schwartz at [email protected].