Dale double-murder victims shot at close range, expert says

mmcnab@islandpacket.comOctober 16, 2013 

Jeanine Mullen was killed by a gunshot directly between her eyes, a shot categorized as a homicide, a forensic pathologist testified during the third day of Earnest Daise's death penalty trial Wednesday.

Medical University of South Carolina forensic pathologist Nicholas Batalis said the bullet traveled through her skull and brain before stopping in her back near her spinal column. Batalis performed autopsies on Mullen and her 4-year-old son Waltfredo Davis-Mullen after both were shot and killed on Nov. 15, 2009.

Daise, 31, of Burton faces two counts of murder and other charges in the death of Mullen, his ex-girlfriend, and her son. Daise also is accused of wounding Jeremiah Daise, the son he had with Mullen. The boy, 2 at the time, was shot through the ear but survived.

Daise could face the death penalty if convicted of the murder charges.

Batalis said Jeanine Mullen's entrance wound was "gaping and starlike," an indication the gun had been placed directly against her forehead when fired. Batalis testified that "abundant" stippling -- soot and gunpowder residue from the bullet that causes scrapes and abrasions -- was found on her skull and soft tissue at the entrance wound.

"There's an explosion of gases when a bullet is fired," he said. "The gas normally dissipates into space, even if it just a few inches away from the body. The gas has nowhere to go when the gun is pressed against the skin."

Waltfredo Davis-Mullen was killed by a gunshot to the left side of his head, Batalis testified. The bullet passed through his skull and brain before exiting the right side of his head near his upper jaw.

Batalis said the child also had stippling around the entrance wound, but not as much as his mother. Batalis said the entrance wound's shape -- a perfect circle -- and the presence of stippling meant the gun had been fired about one to four feet from Waltfredo Mullen's head.

Homicide was listed as the manner of death for both victims, Batalis said.

Batalis said the bullets recovered were medium caliber rounds, possibly similar to ammunition used in a .38 caliber revolver that had gone missing from Mullen's home.

Mullen's oldest son Jaseri testified Tuesday his mother kept a revolver hidden under a pillow there. Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigator Master Sgt. Jeff Purdy testified Wednesday there were no signs of a burglary and the only thing missing from the home was the gun.

S.C. State Law Enforcement Division Lt. Jeff Crooks said Mullen's home and minivan were searched in an attempt to find the gun, which was never recovered. Although Mullen's van was searched, no fingerprinting or forensic processing was done, Crooks said during cross-examination.

During Purdy's cross-examination, defense attorney Mark MacDougall pointed to three home invasions near Mullen's home prior to her death, including one two miles away on Kinloch Road on Nov. 3, 2009 -- 12 days before Mullen was found dead.

14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone questioned that connection, noting that in all three home invasions, money or other items were stolen.

THE PHONE CALLS

Sprint records custodian Ricardo Leal testified Jeanine Mullen called Earnest Daise's cell phone 17 times from her home phone between 11:39 a.m. and 3:52 p.m. on the day she died.

Leal said nearly all of the calls went to voicemail, including eight made in a five-minute span from 2:55 p.m. to 3 p.m. Leal said records also showed Daise's phone was off for many of the calls.

Leal also said Daise called Jamelle Simmons nine times later that day, between 6 p.m. and 6:18 p.m. Seven of the calls were made in a six-minute span, from 6 p.m. to 6:06 p.m. Simmons owned a mobile home on Poppy Hill Road in Burton where Daise occasionally stayed.

Leal also confirmed Simmons texted Daise the message "on the way" at 6:04 p.m.. Simmons denied Tuesday he had gone to pick Daise up in Dale, but Sheriff's Office investigator Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Fraser testified Simmons admitted Nov. 18 to picking Daise up.

THE INTERVIEW

Daise was interviewed by Sheriff's Office investigators early on the morning of Nov. 16 after he was found sleeping at Simmons' trailer, lead investigator Jody Hiers testified.

Hiers said Daise denied being at Mullen's house Nov. 14 and Nov. 15 or driving her minivan; Daise told investigators he was on Poppy Hill Road all day. Mullen's son Jaion testified Tuesday Daise stayed the night Nov. 14 and left on the morning of Nov. 15 driving Mullen's minivan.

Hiers searched Daise for weapons outside the trailer before taking him to the Sheriff's Office. When he noticed blood on Daise's jeans, Hiers stopped the search because he believed it was fresh.

Hiers said Daise was cooperative and allowed deputies to handcuff him while Hiers searched him for weapons. He also agreed to ride in a squad car to the Sheriff's Office handcuffed even though he wasn't under arrest, Hiers said. Daise voluntarily gave DNA swabs while at the Sheriff's Office and never asked for a lawyer, Purdy said.

Daise denied having been cut recently or that the spots on his jeans were blood. After further questioning, Daise admitted the spots could have been blood, Hiers said. Purdy took a photo of a cut on Daise's right knuckle during the interview, the only cut that was found on his body.

During cross examination, defense attorney Bill McGuire said Hiers testified at a September pretrial hearing Daise had no cuts he could see.

Hiers said Daise never showed concern or asked what had happened to Mullen and her children during the questioning. Hiers said the suspect even laughed a few times.

"We were having a conversation like nothing had happened," he said. "There were times where he wouldn't say a word to questions we asked that he didn't like. He would just stare straight at us, almost like he was trying to intimidate us."

THE CLOTHES

Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday after testimony on the testing of Daise's clothes for DNA evidence and gunshot residue.

Forensic scientist Paul Meeh tested four clippings taken from the blood spots on the jeans Daise was found wearing Nov. 16.

Meeh testified one spot tested positive as Mullen's blood, one for Daise's, and one could not be identified.

A fourth spot was determined to be a mixture, with a majority of the DNA sample from Daise. However, Mullen could not be excluded as the minority sample because she contributed DNA, but not enough that it could be clearly identified as hers, Meeh said.

During cross-examination, Meeh said it was impossible to determine how old the DNA found on Daise's jeans was, or which DNA in the mixture spot was there first.

Trace evidence expert Ila Simmons tested Daise's jeans for gunshot residue and found two residue particles and nine lead particles on the thigh and groin areas, she testified Wednesday. Gunshot residue particles are made up of lead, barium, and antimony released by the fired round.

However, defense witness Robert White, a retired West Virginia State Police forensic expert, said the residue found on Daise could have come from inside the squad car he was put in or from Hiers' hands during his search. Stone said it was unlikely that it did, since no residue was found inside Daise's pockets -- one of the places Hiers searched and Simmons tested.

White said the lead could have come from other sources -- a car transmission found in the back of Mullen's minivan or the engine of his car -- depending on the metals used. Both White and Simmons also said gunshot residue could stay on clothing for months if the item was not washed.

During cross examination, White said the residue would also stay on the clothes if they weren't shaken or rubbed. Stone asked if an action like "running through the woods" could shake it off. White said it would.

The gray hooded sweatshirt Daise was believed to be wearing had no traces of blood, Crooks said. Simmons said no gunshot residue was found on the sweatshirt. Sheriff's Office investigators had Simmons test the sweatshirt, believing Daise might have put a gun in the front sweatshirt pocket.

THE DEFENSE

Daise's defense team called two witnesses Wednesday afternoon -- White and Sheriff's Office Sgt. Christine Wilson.

McGuire questioned Wilson on the searches of Simmons' home, particularly of a Nike shoebox found in Simmons' bedroom. Wilson said the box contained traces of marijuana residue and $1,000 -- money that was initially seized but later returned to Simmons.

Wednesday's session ended shortly before 5 p.m.

Thursday morning's session, scheduled to start around 11 a.m., could begin with testimony from Daise.

A verdict could be reached as early as Thursday evening.


Follow reporter Matt McNab's Twitter coverage of the Daise trial here:

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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