Experts say the state has a strong case against Brian Rooney, with a combination of surveillance video that put Rooney with Gardner-Quinn, the records of her calls using his cell phone, incriminating statements Rooney made to police, and perhaps the most important, DNA evidence.
"I think the DNA is really central, because it is the one piece of evidence that links the two of them in an intimate way, and given the circumstances of her death, that's going to be vitally important," said Cheryl Hanna, a professor at Vermont Law School.
Police say they found Rooney's semen on Gardner-Quinn's body. And they say the chances the DNA belongs to someone else are 24-quadrillion to one. With odds like those, Hanna believes the defense may try to minimize the significance of the DNA evidence- suggesting that it doesn't really link Rooney to the murder.
"We might hear the defense suggest that, yes, indeed they had sex, that it was consensual, but that he never intended to kill her or that someone else killed her," she forecasted.
The strength of the DNA could also work against the prosecution. Hanna warns the state could get so wrapped up in the science surrounding the case, they confuse the jury.
And there are still some holes in the state's case. They have yet to explain where Rooney allegedly killed Michelle Gardner Quinn--or how he moved her body to Huntington Gorge. Hanna says the outcome may depend on the defense's ability to chip away at the prosecution's case.
"The most important thing the defense has to do-- really the only thing the defense has to do-- is raise reasonable doubt. They don't have to prove who else did it, they don't have to prove that Rooney was innocent, they just have to raise some doubt," she explained.
The publicity surrounding the case, which extended nationwide, left the judge concerned that Rooney could not find an impartial jury in Chittenden County. Proceedings were moved to Rutland, where jurors selected for duty are allowed knowledge of the case as long as they don't have an opinion about it.
"What we really want are juries who are not going to evaluate the evidence based on what they've read in the papers, or they've talked with their friends, but that they're able to make a decision based on the evidence before them, not based on emotion, but based on reason," Hanna said.
The witness list for this case is fairly short, which means the trial could be done in four or five days. That means there could be a verdict by the end of next week.
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