ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT
John H. Watson
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE
Attorney General of Indiana
Adam M. Dulik
Deputy Attorney General
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
JAMES TROXELL, )
Appellant (Defendant Below), )
v. ) Indiana Supreme Court
) Cause No. 69S00-0101-CR-2
STATE OF INDIANA, )
Appellee (Plaintiff Below). )
APPEAL FROM THE RIPLEY CIRCUIT COURT
The Honorable Carl H. Taul, Judge
Cause No. 69C01-9809-CF-43
ON DIRECT APPEAL
November 22, 2002
James Troxell was convicted of burglary, attempted rape, and battery and sentenced to
eighty years imprisonment. In this direct appeal, Troxell challenges the chain of
custody of DNA samples from him and the victim and also contends that
because the conclusions as to DNA matches were derived by Short Tandem Repeat
analysis they were not properly admitted under Evidence Rule 702(b). We affirm
the trial court.
Factual and Procedural Background
In the early morning of June 17, 1997, the victim was awakened in
her bed by a punch in the face. After several blows, the
attacker stopped, rose and walked to the hallway. The victim felt pain
in her vagina, but did not know whether penetration had occurred. After
she attempted to hide under the bed, her assailant returned and ordered oral
sex, but left before the victim complied. The victim never saw the
intruders face. Police determined that her family room door had been kicked
in, and collected her bedding and clothing, some hairs from the floor, and
a few other items. The victim was taken to the hospital, where
a sample of her blood, hair, and saliva were taken.
Police questioned Troxell, who lived nearby, and noticed suspicious marks on his hand.
After further investigation, Troxell became a suspect. Subsequent DNA testing of
the hair found in the bedroom determined that the likelihood of a white
male other than Troxell as the source of the DNA was one in
230 trillion. The victim also testified that she had never invited Troxell
into her home. A jury convicted Troxell of burglary as a Class
A felony, burglary as a Class B felony, residential entry as a Class
D felony, attempted rape as a Class B felony, and battery resulting in
serious bodily injury as a Class C felony. The jury subsequently adjudicated
Troxell a habitual offender. After merging the Class B felony burglary and
the Class D felony residential entry into the Class A felony burglary, the
trial court sentenced Troxell to a term of eighty years.
I. Chain of Custody
Troxell claims error in the trial courts admission of the results from the
DNA tests of both hair samples found in the bedroom. In particular,
Troxell claims error with regard to the victims rape kit, contending there was
improper supervision when the rape kit was obtained and that no one responsible
for collecting the victims rape kit testified at trial. Troxell also contends
that his own blood samples were admitted despite an improper chain of custody
at the FBI laboratory.
The Victims Sample
Troxell asserts error in the chain of custody of the victims sample from
the rape kit before it was placed in police custody. Troxell contends
that because the DNA found at the crime scene must exclude the victim
to be probative, the victims DNA from the rape kit was subject to
the same chain of custody required for the defendants DNA. Whatever the
merits of his challenge to the chain of custody, any error in the
chain of custody of the victims DNA was harmless. Troxells DNA, not
the victims, supported Troxells conviction. The identification of the perpetrator, not the
victim, was the significance of this evidence. Any chain of custody issues
related to the victims DNA are irrelevant, as long as Troxells own DNA
was properly admitted and established to be from the crime scene.
Troxell also challenges the chain of custody of his own DNA sample.
Specifically he asserts that the State failed to establish a proper chain of
custody within the FBI laboratory. Because there was no chain of custody
objection to this evidence, this claim is not available on appeal unless it
constituted fundamental error. Cutter v. State, 725 N.E.2d 401, 406 (Ind. 2000).
The State bears a higher burden to establish the chain of custody
of fungible evidence, such as blood and hair samples, whose appearance is indistinguishable
to the naked eye. Culver v. State, 727 N.E.2d 1062, 1068 (Ind. 2000);
see also Bivins v. State, 433 N.E.2d 387, 389 (Ind. 1982) (acknowledging that
hair is characterized as fungible evidence). To establish a proper chain of
custody, the State must give reasonable assurances that the evidence remained in an
undisturbed condition. Cliver v. State, 666 N.E.2d 59, 63 (Ind. 1996).
However, the State need not establish a perfect chain of custody, and once
the State strongly suggests the exact whereabouts of the evidence, any gaps go
to the weight of the evidence and not to admissibility. Wrinkles v.
State, 690 N.E.2d 1156, 1160 (Ind. 1997); Jenkins v. State, 627 N.E.2d 789,
793 (Ind. 1993) (noting that failure of FBI technician to testify did not
create error). Moreover, there is a presumption of regularity in the handling
of evidence by officers, and there is a presumption that officers exercise due
care in handling their duties. Wrinkles, 690 N.E.2d at 1160; Culver, 727
N.E.2d at 1067. To mount a successful challenge to the chain of
custody, one must present evidence that does more than raise a mere possibility
that the evidence may have been tampered with. Cliver, 666 N.E.2d at
Indiana State Police Sergeant Lewis collected the evidence at the crime scene, including
the bedding and the carpet sweepings that contained the hairs, locked it in
his van, and transported it to the Versailles Indiana State Police Post.
At the post, Sergeant Lewis locked the evidence in the evidence locker until
it was shipped to Special Agent Douglas Deedrick at the FBI laboratory.
At trial, Deedrick explained the protocol that the Bureau follows upon the receipt
of items of evidence for analysis. He testified that the evidence first
goes through an X-ray facility to make sure that the evidence is safe.
From there, the evidence is sent to an information center where information
about the case and the evidence, including an inventory of the evidence, is
entered into a computer. The items are then sent for processing and
analysis. Special Agent Guerrieri testified to the FBIs quality control processes.
Guerrieri also noted that the FBI rechecks its results to further ensure accuracy.
Additionally, two agents completed three tests comparing the DNA from hair and blood
samples collected from the victim and Troxell to the DNA from hair found
in the victims bedroom. All of the test results were consistent.
Although the record contains no specific dates and times documenting the movement of
Troxells samples within the FBI processes, the absence of this information goes to
the weight of the evidence and not to its admissibility.
N.E.2d at 793 (Ind. 1993). In sum, Troxell points to the possibility
that his DNA sample may have been the subject of tampering but he
points to no evidence in support of the allegation. Because of the
presumption of regularity in handling evidence, there was no error in admitting this
evidence, let alone fundamental error.
II. Short Tandem Repeat DNA Analysis
Troxell last claims that the trial court erred in admitting the DNA test
results from the FBI laboratory, which used Short Tandem Repeat analysis to establish
the minuscule probability of error in identifying samples from both the victim and
Troxell. A number of courts have set forth the science underlying STR
analysis. A more complete explanation is provided in United States v. Trala,
162 F. Supp. 2d 336 (D. Del. 2001). In simplified terms, STR
provides a more statistically reliable result by comparing more loci among the huge
number comprising a strand of one humans DNA with that of another.
Id. at 340-41. The results from the STR analysis in this case
indicated that the chance that a white male other than Troxell was the
source of the hair found in the victims room was one in 230
trillion. Troxell argues that STR is too new to be reliable or
accepted in the relevant scientific community and that evidence based upon STR analysis
was unduly prejudicial. This Court has noted that the words DNA test
results are not magic words which, once uttered, cause the doors of admissibility
to open. Smith v. State, 702 N.E.2d 668, 672 (Ind. 1998) (quoting
Harrison v. State, 644 N.E.2d 1243, 1251 (Ind. 1995)). Rather, DNA testing
is admissible if the trial court is satisfied that: (1) the scientific principles
upon which the expert testimony rests are reliable; (2) the witness is qualified;
and (3) the testimonys probative value is not substantially outweighed by the dangers
of unfair prejudice. Ingram v. State, 699 N.E.2d 261, 262 (Ind. 1998).
Under Indiana Evidence Rule 702, no specific test is required to establish
the reliability of a scientific process. McGrew v. State, 682 N.E.2d 1289,
1292 (Ind. 1997). Rather we have permitted trial courts to consider: (1)
whether the technique has been or can be empirically tested; (2) whether the
technique has been subjected to peer review and publication; (3) the known or
potential rate of error, as well as the existence and maintenance of standards
controlling the techniques operation; and (4) general acceptance within the relevant scientific community.
We review the trial courts determination to admit evidence based on a
scientific process under an abuse of discretion standard. Ingram, 699 N.E.2d at
The trial court conducted a hearing as to the admissibility of the STR
test results. Special Agent Guerrieri noted that after the development of the
STR test, the test underwent a thorough validation process before being put into
service by the FBI in the late 1990s, before Troxells samples were analyzed.
He also stated that the protocol used by the FBI has been
subjected to technical review by its own scientists and by outside experts.
The State introduced several articles in peer review journals that validated the STR
testing process. Special Agent Guerrieri also noted that at the time of
trial, over 140 laboratories performed STR testing. He explained that STR testing
is replacing other forms of testing because it is more efficient and effective.
He also described the labs processes to avoid contamination and testified that
the lab regularly tests the proficiency of its own analysts. Finally, Guerrieri
stated that STR analysis is generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.
Other courts have reached the same conclusion.
See Trala, 162 F. Supp.
2d. at 336; State v. Allen, 85 Cal. Rptr. 2d 655 (Cal. Ct.
App. 1999); State v. Schreck, 22 P.3d 68 (Colo. 2001); Lemour v. State,
802 So. 2d 402 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2001); Commonwealth v. Rosier, 685
N.E.2d 739 (Mass. 1997); State v. Jackson, 582 N.W.2d 317 (Neb. 1998); State
v. Deloatch, 804 A.2d 604 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. 2002); New York
v. Owens, 725 N.Y.S.2d 178 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2001); Fanniel v. State, No.
01-00-00732-CR, 2002 Tex. App. LEXIS 2260 at *1 (Tex. Crim. App. March 28,
2002) (unpublished); State v. Butterfield, 27 P.3d 1133 (Utah 2001). Based on
the testimony of Special Agent Guerrieri, the reported decisions in other jurisdictions, and
what seems to us to be the clear weight of scientific opinion that
STR is now refined and reliable technology, we conclude that the trial court
was well within its discretion in finding the scientific principles of STR testing
to be reliable and generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, SULLIVAN, and RUCKER, JJ., concur.