Oct. 1, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The murder trial of Ojai teen Alex Medina led off its third week Monday with testimony regarding DNA and featured a few admonitions to attorneys to stay focused on the trial. Medina is accused of murdering fellow Ojai teen Seth Scarminach in 2009.
Prosecution witness Cynthia Lazenby, a forensic microbiologist with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed that blood samples collected from La Luna Avenue leading from the crime scene, contained DNA from Medina and Scarminach. Of the several samples, one was identical to Medina’s DNA; the another was identical to Scarminach’s DNA, A third, Lazenby said, “appeared to be a mixture, it looked like at least two people … It appeared to include Scarminach’s DNA. Mixtures are difficult in interpretation, but I did feel I could say Scarminach’s was included. I could not include nor exclude Medina.”
The defense team worked part of Monday one person short after attorney Scott Wippert was excused by Superior Court Judge James Cloninger because he complained of having a migraine. Robyn Bramson took over.
She was, however, admonished by Cloninger during her cross-examination of Lazenby. Twice, Bramson attempted to bring up the defense’s ability to pay for time in the forensics lab; the first time, the prosecution objected and Cloninger sustained. The second time, he instructed the jury to leave the courtroom while he discussed the issue with the attorneys.
“The prosecution was inferring that defense could have tested, we just elected not to,” Bramson told the judge. “I was simply trying to establish that is not the case.”
“Can this witness attest to that?” Cloninger asked. “To the degree this suspect is indigent? That his defense is funded by the public? … Do you have a good faith basis for asking this witness this?”
Bramson responded, “Yes, they charge a good amount of money for monitoring the process—” and was cut off by Cloninger, who exclaimed, “This is improper! You are misusing your cross-examination: Stop it! Don’t do it again or I will terminate your cross-examination. Let’s bring the jury back in and get back to work.”
Lazenby wrapped up testimony for the day.
Tuesday, the defense recalled for cross-examination detective Dave Brantley — who testified for a short time Monday.
Wippert questioned Brantley about his interviews with witness Gabriel Arellano, attempting to establish that Arellano was not a dependable witness because he’d changed his story a number of times in the days following the murder — and has admitted in court that he lied to police.
When he was first questioned by police, Arellano claimed he wasn’t at the party where Scarminach was murdered. Eventually, he changed his story after being arrested, saying he had been there and saw Medina and Scarminach exchanging blows before Scarminach dropped and Medina ran.
There was contention between Wippert and Brantley over exactly how far away Arellano claimed to have been from the fight — about 20 feet — and whether the darkness of the evening prevented him from getting a clear view of the altercation.
Once again, Cloninger asked the jury to leave the courtroom, and asked Wippert to either prove his contention that Arellano had been 20 feet away from the crime scene or halt that line of questioning.
After several prosecution objections — most of which were sustained — Wippert asked Brantley, “Was he (Arellano) released because he agreed to wear a wire” to attempt to get another witness, Rutilio Huerta, to discuss the case. Brantley said no.
“If it wasn’t already agreed that he (Arellano) would wear a wire, then why was he released?” Wippert asked. Brantley said he didn’t know, that it was not he who released Arellano. The back-and-forth continued until Cloninger told Wippert to forego all questioning regarding body wires, at which point Brantley was allowed to leave the witness stand.
At the end of the day Monday, Prosecutor Thomas Dunlevy told Cloninger he estimated the prosecution will most likely rest its case Thursday.
Oct. 1, 2013