DECATUR - A decision by a Washington state appeals court on dog DNA could help the appeal of three people convicted of killing Karyn Hearn Slover.
In a decision earlier this week, the court decided that a judge in a 1998 King County, Wash., murder trial improperly admitted dog DNA evidence. In what was believed to be the first case in the nation involving dog DNA, prosecutors presented evidence that blood from a dog was found on the clothing of two murder suspects. The dog had been shot to death along with its owners.In 2002, prosecutors in the Karyn Hearn Slover murder trial became the first in Illinois to use similar evidence, arguing that a single dog hair found with the body of Karyn Slover genetically matched the hair of a dog owned by Michael Slover Sr. and Jeannette Slover. The couple, along with their son - Karyn Slover's ex-husband, Michael Slover Jr. - were convicted of her 1996 murder. They are serving prison sentences of 60 years for the murder, with the Slover men sen
tenced to an additional five years for concealing the homicide.
The expert to testify in both cases was Joy Halverson, founder of QuestGen Forensics, a Davis, Calif.-based company specializing in DNA analysis of samples from animals.In the Washington decision, the court wrote: "… The study of canine DNA has not progressed to the point of the study of human DNA sufficient to permit an expert to testify to a match between a sample and a specific dog. It was error for the trial court to have admitted such testimony …"Although the appellate decision is believed to be the first to deal with the issue, courts in Illinois are not bound by it. But Decatur attorney Joseph Vigneri, who represented Michael Slover Jr. at trial, is hopeful that it will be considered in his appeal.He said the decision makes the same points he unsuccessfully argued in a motion to exclude the evidence. Vigneri argued animal DNA testing is novel science and the techniques for conducting it are not generally accepted in the scientific community."I think this is wonderful news for the Slovers' case, if the Illinois Appellate Court follows this opinion," Vigneri said.Other evidence against the Slovers included buttons found on the elder Slovers' property that experts testified matched buttons found on Karyn Slover's clothing. Prosecutors have said in the past that they believe jurors were persuaded
by the button evidence.
But because the Slovers' convictions rested on circumstantial evidence, Vigneri said a ruling on the dog hair could be key to the appeal."If the Illinois State Appellate Court adopts this opinion, I don't see how in the world they can affirm their convictions," Vigneri said.But Macon County State's Attorney Scott Rueter noted that the Slover case happened five years after the Washington trial."It appears this case was decided in the late '90s, and at that time, it could well be the standards for accepting dog DNA weren't as established as they are now," Rueter said. "So, it is certainly a possibility that since our case was tried later than the original trial in that case that there have been developments in dog DNA that make it more reliable."John McCarthy, the state assistant appellate defender representing the Slovers, said he plans to have law students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign look into the Washington case."It's definitely something of interest because it's the first appellate court opinion dealing with dog DNA, but whether it will have an impact in this case, I don't know," McCarthy said.McCarthy expects to file a brief in the Slovers' appeal in the 4th District Appellate Court in the spring of next year.Another kind of animal DNA testing also has been significant in the Slover case. Prosecutors have been waiting to genetically test cat hair they believe could link Slover Jr.'s sister, Mary Slover, to the crime. A Macon County judge
agreed to allow the testing, and the appellate court upheld that decision.
McCarthy said that because the Illinois Supreme Court denied his petition to allow him to appeal, prosecutors will likely receive a mandate to test the cat hair in about a month.The hair was found in the car Karyn Slover was driving when she disappeared, and prosecutors want to compare it with cat hair found in Mary Slover's former Springfield residence.Mary Slover has never been criminally charged and denies any involvement. She adopted Karyn Slover's son with Michael Slover Jr. in 1999.But prosecutors seeking to strip her of custody of 10-year-old Kolten argued she was involved in the concealment of the death and a Macon County judge agreed, terminating her parental rights. Judge Scott B. Diamond decided Wednesday
that Kolten's maternal grandparents, Larry and Donna Hearn, should have custody of the boy.
Prosecutors have not ruled out filing criminal charges against Mary Slover. But Slover and her attorney, Dan Davlantis, maintain the cat hair evidence is irrelevant. Davlantis has said Mary Slover's cats stayed with her parents around the time of Karyn Slover's disappearance and that Kolten could have played with the cats and transferred the hair to his mother.Stephanie Potter can be reached at 421-7984.