The Todd Howley murder trial being held in Bracebridge has now heard about DNA evidence which was collected at several locations following Toronto investor Paul Maasland’s death.
On February 12th, Forensic Scientist Kimberley Sharpe with the Centre for Forensic Sciences biology section testified about blood/DNA samples collected from Maasland’s Subaru Forester, the Muskoka Falls boat launch where his body was found and the warehouse where Howley conducted work into an Algae biofuel technology Maasland was funding.
Shoes seized at the warehouse were one of the first areas of evidence to be addressed.
“Blood was detected on the shoes and samples were taken for DNA analysis,” Sharpe told jurors, adding that “either (Maasland) is the source of that DNA or a coincidence has occurred.”
The chance of it being from a random, unrelated person, she said, was “1 in 650 million.”
As jurors heard, DNA is a complex subject and in other aspects of this case, it has served to complicate things.
For instance, DNA was also identified at the warehouse on the floor in the washroom. Here it was determined not to be Maasland’s, but another technically unidentified individual.
One possibility for its source was a relative of Howley’s – identified by Defence lawyer Breese Davies as his wife’s sister’s partner.
Court heard he was there only once and that he cut himself accidentally on the day in question. Davies tells Muskoka News Watch he was there to help Howley move items to another location.
This individual was excluded from all other DNA profiles gathered in the case.
More testimony was about another section of warehouse floor that contained DNA – here again, Maasland’s profile couldn’t be excluded as a possible source.
But Defence co-council Owen Goddard pointed out it could also not be determined when this DNA first appeared.
Maasland, he suggested, could have cut himself anytime in summer 2010 and shed several drops of blood. Sharpe had to admit this was a possibility.
The Crown contends Maasland was killed by Howley at the warehouse on August 29th, 2010 and that his badly beaten body was transported in his Subaru Forester to Bracebridge where it was dumped. No DNA that can be said to be Howley’s was found in the Forester, but that which can be said to be Maasland’s was – in both the interior and on the exterior of the vehicle.
Shifting to the boat launch where Maasland’s body was discovered on August 30th 2010, Sharpe addressed forensic swabs taken from a pair of blue knit gloves found near the body.
DNA swabs taken from inside a glove
The swabs were collected from inside one of the gloves and it was determined Howley’s profile couldn’t be excluded as a match.
“He is either the source of the DNA or a coincidence has occurred,” said Sharpe, adding that the chance that it was DNA from an entirely random person was “1 in 1.7 billion.”
However, the Defence showed that DNA can be transferred onto items in many ways, including sneezing, coughing and touch.
“Your DNA can wind up where you’ve never been is that right?” asked Goddard.
Sharpe admitted this could happen.
Jurors heard that if an object containing DNA at one location is touched by another person and then that person touches objects at another location, some of the original DNA could be spread to the new location. This is referred to as tertiary DNA transfer.
The question of direct, indirect and tertiary DNA transfer is an important one when it comes to evidence, court heard, when weighing factors in the case.
Complicating things further is the fact that the gloves are of the type in which there is no way to determine which way they were worn. Technically there is no inside or outside, pointed out the Defence, so how the DNA ended up on or in them remains an open question.
The case resumes this coming Monday.
*photo is of the accused in the case, Todd Howley
February 5, 2016: Mystery letter with alleged Maasland murder details sent to Bracebridge OPP
January 28, 2016: Chilling crime scene details revealed at Bracebridge murder trial
January 27, 2016: Murdered investor was thrilled at seeing businesses succeed
May 11, 2011, The Star: FBI arrest Oakville man in Muskoka murder
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