SPRINGFIELD - An attorney trying to gain a new trial for three members of the Slover family, all convicted of murdering 23-year-old Karyn Hearn Slover, presented oral arguments to the appellate court in an effort to test a fingerprint found on a bridge.
This issue was decided by Macon County Associate Judge Timothy Steadman on March 16 after a lengthy hearing held six weeks earlier.
At that time, Steadman ruled that the latent print, found on the Bruce-Findlay Bridge railing over Lake Shelbyville in 1996, shortly after parts of the victim's body were found downstream, was not suitable for identification. A prosecution witness testified that it lacked enough landmarks to be matched with an unknown print from a database.
Peter Wise argued before a panel of the Fourth District Appellate Court that the ruling was erroneous, because Steadman said the print had zero scientific potential to produce evidence relevant to the Slovers' actual innocence.
Wise, a private attorney working with the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, said he successfully showed there is a potential exoneration of his clients to be found in the partial latent print.
"Potential is the broadest of words in this circumstance," Wise said.
Wise said the trial judge relied on the state's expert, Mary McCarthy, of the Illinois State Police Laboratory, when he ruled that the fingerprint was not suitable to be tested by the nationwide Automated Fingerprint Identification System.
Wise said he had two experts before the trial court who testified that the latent print had enough features to produce a match.
"They say experts can be found that will say just about anything," Appellate Judge Robert W. Cook said.
Wise said his motion to test this print is not happening in a vacuum, because alternative suspects are being developed based on fur and hair found with the body parts.
Arguing for the state, Appellate Prosecutor Denise M. Ambrose said the trial judge correctly decided which expert he believed the most, which was the state's expert.
Appellate Judge Robert J. Steigmann asked why the state objected to running the print through the database.
Ambrose said the statute on testing prints applies to cases in which the print is suitable. McCarthy testified at the evidentiary hearing that this print lacked many key features, which might lead to guesswork. It could lead to long lists of possible matches, some of whom might be found in Alaska.
"If you have a poor-quality latent you're going to generate garbage," Ambrose said. "You're wasting time."
Ambrose pointed out that a couple of hours before the print was lifted from the bridge railing by an Illinois State Police officer, there were members of the media in that area.
"He might have very well lifted some print from the media," she argued, adding that the individual who left the print might have known Karyn Slover. "She was working for the Herald & Review. That wouldn't have been particularly astounding."
Karyn Slover, 23, former wife of Michael Slover Jr., was killed in September 1996. Parts of her dismembered body were found in trash bags floating in Lake Shelbyville two days after she disappeared. Michael Slover Jr. and his parents, Michael Slover Sr. and Jeannette Slover were convicted of the crime in 2002. They are serving 60-year sentences in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
The appellate court decision is expected to be released within six months.