The man charged with killing Burlington social worker Kathleen Smith was back in court Tuesday with an unusual request for a judge. His lawyers wanted access to the Vermont Forensic Lab to make sure DNA tests are being done properly.
DNA evidence has been both the undoing of defendants and their saving grace when it clears them. So the stakes for Jose Pazos are very high.
Prosecutors say they have evidence that clearly puts Kathleen Smith's blood on a hunting knife Pazos had when police caught up with the drifter after Smith's murder last fall. But for additional DNA tests, the defense wants its own experts to be present to make sure lab technicians are doing their jobs precisely and not contaminating the samples. The problem is there's so little blood, the tests can only be done once.
"We want the examiners focused on their work and not distracted," said Eric Buel, the director of the Vt. Forensics Lab. "And so when looking at how do we do the best practice for the state of Vermont-- the best possible analysis, it would be to make sure the examiner was focused on what they were doing."
"It's hard to answer the question of what's the problem with the tests when they haven't even done the tests yet," defense attorney Bob Katims said. "We want to have an observer there when the test is going on. I don't see what they're afraid of, quite frankly."
Judge Michael Kupersmith ruled the defense experts cannot be present for the tests in Waterbury, but said the defense could explore paying for another facility out of state where witnesses are routinely allowed in labs.
Jose Pazos is still being held in jail. If he's convicted of killing Kathleen Smith, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
DNA is used in a lot of cases these days. And, in fact, this argument has come up before in another active murder investigation. The defense for Latonia Congress raised similar concerns about lab work that links her to the stabbing death of her niece. Attorneys for Congress have said finite samples are destroyed during testing for the prosecution and that's just not fair. The issue is likely to surface again in other cases too, but Judge Kupersmith said Tuesday far be it from him to tell a reputable scientist like the head of the Forensic Lab how to do his job.
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