Ballistic evidence examination takes center stage at murder retrial

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ROCKFORD (WREX) – The question of whether bullets and casings found at a 1993 crime scene matched the gun found in the defendant’s home was the main focus of the second day of the Patrick Pursley retrial.

The state’s firearm expert, John Murdock, took the stand Friday morning to reveal his findings.  Murdock evaluated the previous testing which the Illinois State Police Forensic Lab carried out on evidence recovered from the murder of Andy Ascher in 1993.  He also evaluated another test of evidence which ISP technicians performed in 2011.

In previous testimony, retired Rockford police officers told the court a Taurus handgun was recovered during a search of Pursley’s home in 1993.  Prosecutors allege that handgun is what Pursley used to murder Andy Ascher.

Murdock said markings the Taurus handgun created on test bullets, which were fired from it in 1993 and 2011, all match each other, and show distinct similarities. However, Murdock said that group of test bullets do not match the bullets and casings which were recovered from the 1993 crime scene.  Therefore, Murdock said it’s his conclusion that the Taurus handgun did not fire the bullets that are in evidence.

“The two groups don’t match each other,” said Murdock. “Conclusion? The two groups were fired from different guns.”

“And ultimately what is your conclusion as is to whether the evidence recovered from the scene could be identified with the Taurus gun,” asked defense attorney Andrew Vail.

“In my opinion those two were not fired from that gun,”  said Murdock.

However in cross examinations, the state said Murdock left out a key piece of his report, which shares more information on his findings. The state maintains in Murdock’s report, when referring to the Taurus gun, he didn’t believe it matched case evidence “in its current condition”.

The state said Murdock had noted some irregularities within the gun, which could have been due to mishandling or improper cleaning and care. Assistant State’s Attorneys asked Murdock if it’s possible the gun could have been manipulated, following the April 2nd shooting of Ascher, before it was recovered by police in June of 1993, causing differences in markings on crime scene evidence compared to Taurus test bullets. Murdock conceded that it was plausible.

At the beginning of Friday’s court proceedings, the state rested its case.  Immediately following that, defense attorneys made a motion for a directed verdict.  Attorneys asked McGraw to rule in their favor, saying the state had not provided sufficient evidence to prove Patrick Pursley committed this crime.

McGraw denied that motion, but in arguments regarding the directed verdict, the court learned more about potential statements made by Pursley’s girlfriend in 1993, Samantha Crabtree.  On Thursday, Crabtree was called to testify but instead used her Fifth Amendment right and did not answer questions.

However, Assistant State’s Attorney Jim Brun said, in 1993, Crabtree told police officers she and Pursley had been having financial problems, and on April 2nd of that year she was driving him around to commit robberies.  She says he got out of the car with a ski mask on his head, while she parked the car.  Crabtree then told officers she heard two gunshots and Pursley then ran back into the car, holding her Taurus gun. Crabtree then told officers Pursley threatened to kill her and her children, should she ever go to police with this information.

Defense attorneys argue that initial 1993 statement made by Crabtree was coerced by police, which is why she later recanted it. Ultimately, it’s still up to Judge McGraw if he’ll consider any of Crabtree’s previous statements when he examines all of the evidence in this case for his verdict.

Closing arguments will begin Tuesday, January 15 at 9 a.m. 13 News Reporter Mary Sugden will be there to provide updates on the case.

Mary Sugden

Mary Sugden

Investigative Reporter

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