GALLIPOLIS — Testimony continued on Friday during day five of the trial in the case against a man charged in the February murder of a Morgan Township woman.
Lee A. Hawkins, 48, Bidwell, stands accused of the strangulation death of Betsy Ball, 67, at her residence on February 29 and the subsequent rape and disposal of her body at a nearby farm.
The prosecution lead by Assistant Gallia County Prosecutors Eric Mulford and Britt Wiseman called three expert witnesses to the stand on Friday to testify before the jury on their involvement in the case.
Special Agent Stephanie Russell Herron, a crime scene investigator with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI), was the first to take the stand.
Herron assisted fellow forensic scientist Special Agent Shane Hanshaw in processing evidence found at the Ball residence at 75 Wilder Road, as well as on the farm on Piper Road where her body was found on March 1.
Hawkins, who worked for the Balls as a farm hand, was arrested on March 13 in connection with the murder and subsequently pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated murder, murder, tampering with evidence and the gross abuse of a corpse.
The defendant has remained in the Gallia County Jail since his arrest in March.
During her testimony on Friday, Special Agent Herron outlined her role in photographing and collecting evidence, including fingerprints and DNA samples, at both crime scenes.
During cross examination by attorney for the defense, Barbara Wallen, Herron reported that she arrived at the Ball residence at approximately 7 a.m. on March 1 and traveled to Piper Road that afternoon to assist in the examination of the body.
Upon questioning by Wallen, Herron also stated that she was not present when either scene was secured by local law enforcement, nor was she aware of what occurred at the two locations prior to her arrival.
Forensic Scientist Heather Williams, a firearm and tool mark examiner at BCI — experts who often also examine tire impressions — reported on her involvement in examining the cast of tire tracks taken from the Piper Road location, the markings found on the victim’s jacket and the her efforts to compare these tracks with the tires of the suspect’s vehicle.
According to Williams the partial impressions found at the scene showed similarities in tread size and tread design to the tires that were found on the Ford pickup truck owned by the victim and impounded by the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office during their investigation of the murder.
During cross examination, Wallen requested that Williams read a portion of the report of her findings to the jury.
“These findings indicate that the partial impressions may have been made by the tires mounted on the Ford pickup truck,” Williams read. “However, the lack of individual characteristics precludes any conclusive determination of identity.”
Wallen then questioned Williams’ findings from her examination of the tires.
“So, your test is basically not conclusive, am I correct?”
“It is inconclusive for positive identification, yes,” Herron answered.
A BCI forensic scientist in the latent print section, Robin Roggenbeck, was the next to take the stand on Friday morning.
Roggenbeck discussed three latent prints — or prints not readily visible — that were lifted from the passenger side door and hood of a Subaru found inside the Ball’s garage by crime scene investigators.
The garage attached to the Ball resident is believed to be the site of the murder.
Roggenbeck reported that the defendant could be positively identified as the source of the two sets of prints lifted from the front passenger door of the vehicle, however, a palm print lifted from the hood of the vehicle was not a match.
According to Roggenbeck, the left little, left ring, left middle and left index fingerprints from the first set of prints and the right ring and right little finger from the second set of prints were both positive matches to the fingerprint card bearing the name of Lee A. Hawkins.
During questioning by Wallen, Roggenbeck reported that there is no way to determine the length of time a print will last on any particular surface.
“We can’t determine how long a print can remain on a surface. It depends on the external environment and other conditions, but, yes, it could remain on surface for a very long time,” she stated.
Roggenbeck further stated that, in this case, a time frame for when the prints were made by Hawkins could not determined.
“There’s no way to determine when the fingerprint is made by the testing that is performed, am I correct?” Wallen asked.
“In this particular case, no, I could not determine a time,” Roggenbeck answered.
Wallen also pointed to the fact that the third sample, the source of the palm print taken from the hood of the vehicle could not positively be identified.
“The palm print did have sufficient ridge detail for comparison or elimination but did not match the known palm prints of card bearing the name of Lee Hawkins,” Roggenbeck said. “That was the only available record that I had to make a comparison to.”
In his redirect, prosecuting attorney Britt Wiseman reiterated that there were, in fact, six prints that matched the defendant as their source.
“There were six distinct fingerprints that matched the defendant Lee Hawkins on the Subaru vehicle from which these prints were lifted, correct?” he asked.
“That’s correct,” Roggenbeck answered.
Hannah Cox was the last BCI forensic scientist to testify on Friday.
Cox discussed her work in the forensic biology section of BCI and her examination of evidence from this case for the possible presence of biological or bodily fluids.
Cox reported that she positively identified the presence of trace amounts of seminal fluid on a towel that was found near the victim’s body on Piper Road, as well as the presence of semen on samples taken from Ball’s body.
Additionally, a positive color change test on the towel indicated the possible presence of blood on that item.
“In this particular case, after swabbing some of the staining that was on this towel, I saw that color change. That color change can also occur from other fluids besides blood — from different fluids found in nature, different plants and, also, rust,” she stated. “It could be, but I’m not saying conclusively that it is blood.”
Cox also reported that she did not perform any analysis on the samples she examined, but forwarded the samples on to a DNA specialist who examined the evidence further.
During cross examination, Cox stated that she had received and examined evidence in this case that did not contain traces of blood or bodily fluids.
“There were items that were submitted that contained no blood or bodily fluids that were identified, correct?”
“Correct,” Cox answered.
“Specifically, the front seat cover from a Ford Pickup truck was submitted and nothing was found on that seat cover, am I correct?” Wallen asked.
“I did not find any semen or stains for analysis on that item,” she answered.
Cox also stated no evidence was found on two buttons that were also submitted for testing.
The case against Lee Hawkins will continue at 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday in the Gallia County Common Pleas Court. The state is expected to present its final witness on Tuesday with the defense beginning its case thereafter.