Rogers County District Attorney’s office said Friday it has no problem with the Innocence Project obtaining and testing DNA evidence in a 13-year-old murder case.
First Assistant District Attorney Ray Hasselman was a part of the prosecution team, headed by District Attorney Gene Haynes, which successfully presented the case against Ray Minnerup, who was found guilty by a jury in the 1994 stabbing death of Claremore liquor store owner, Jacqueline Kay Driver.
“I am well aware they [the Innocence Project] wanted to check some of the evidence,” Hasselman said. “We have no problem with that. Maybe there’s some advance testing now that they want done. You never know what will come of it.”
The search for evidence has been ongoing, according to Craig Cooley, attorney with the Innocence Project.
But, a missing pair of scissors and fingernail clippings could, if found, hold the key to affirming guilt or suggesting innocence of the Claremore man serving life without parole for the murder. However, the location of those two items has yet to be determined.
Findings in court proceedings, as recent as March of this year, indicate the scissors and fingernail clippings are no longer housed in the Claremore Police Department’s evidence room.
Cooley said there may be a chance these specific items were transferred from one agency to another — from the Claremore Police Department to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation lab — and could be found.
“If we can’t find the evidence we need, we’re in between a rock and a hard place,” Cooley said. “The Claremore Police Department has been very cooperative with us. They have let us come up to the department and look through the evidence ourselves.”
“The big thing now is locating the evidence,” Cooley said. “We can’t really move forward until we find those items.” If found, DNA testing will be conducted.
Minnerup contacted the Innocence Project three years ago to request their help in clearing his name.
“It could be a dead end if no evidence is found,” Cooley said.
In that instance, “We could use his case to bring awareness about how to preserve evidence and how long it needs to be preserved,” Cooley said.
The problem, Cooley said, is the missing evidence. There is no law governing how evidence must be preserved or how long it must be preserved.
In March, a court order was signed by Rogers County District Judge Dwayne Steidley allowing items of evidence to be tested at Forensics Science Associates in Richmond, Calif. Some of the evidence released for testing includes nine slides containing various numbered evidence; a broken slide labeled Driver H; a broken slide labeled Driver right FN; a sack placed over Driver’s right hand and a sack placed over Driver’s left hand; blood stains from Driver and Minnerup; slides labeled K fiber blouse, K fiber pants, Driver LTFN and Driver RTFN.
The original order releasing evidence for testing, signed by Steidley on Feb. 28, 2006, released the scissors, fingernail clippings, both sacks which covered Driver’s hands and blood stains from both Driver and Minnerup.
That order was changed after a memo from Lt. C.A. Goad III indicated an original list of evidence prepared by Claremore Police Chief Mickey Perry in 2005 was incorrect and that the scissors and fingernail clippings were unable to be located in the Police Department’s evidence room.
The scissors were reportedly used to pry open the cash register at Bob’s Liquor Store, formerly located on Highway 66 near Warehouse Market, where Driver was murdered. The importance of finding the fingernail clippings stems from Driver’s autopsy report which stated she fought her attacker before she died after being stabbed 12 times. That would mean the murderer’s DNA could be under those fingernails.
Although three slides containing scrapings from Driver’s fingernails were located, Cooley said the actual fingernails would be crucial to the Project’s research and testing. The scissors are equally important because Cooley said the murderer’s DNA could be on the instrument as well if it was in fact used to pry the cash register open.
In an effort to locate the scissors and Driver’s fingernail clippings, Cooley is looking over paperwork he has received in connection with the evidence.
“I have literally stacks of documents regarding the evidence in this case,” Cooley said. “I’m going through those and am hoping to find out where this evidence has been. Once we find it, we can conduct the testing and move forward.”
“There was some evidence missing, and I don’t think there was any obligation on Claremore Police Department to keep that evidence,” Hasselman said.
After the trial in February 1997, Jack Gordon Jr., one of Minnerup’s defense attorneys, said blood samples were sent to the medical examiner in Tarrant County Texas to be tested for DNA.
“We found some DNA evidence after the trial and sent it to Texas to be analyzed, but it didn’t help,” Gordon said. “It was tested and it came back as (Driver’s) DNA.”
Those blood samples were the only pieces of evidence tested following the trial.
Prior to the trial, no evidence was tested and no DNA evidence was presented. The state did, however, present a videotaped confession which depicted Minnerup confessing to Driver’s murder.
Gordon has assisted the Project in obtaining some of the evidence and says he hopes their efforts will help Minnerup.
“I never believed Ray Minnerup was capable of doing what they said he did,” Gordon said. “(The Project representatives) have done some good work over the years, and if they can find the evidence, I believe they will here too.”
Along with the videotaped confession, the state had three eyewitnesses that testified to their advantage. That testimony came from Jamil Haynes, District Attorney Gene Haynes’ wife, and two courthouse employees — Beth Kadel, a court reporter for Special Judge David Box at the time and Diane Kelley, Box’s bailiff. All three stated they saw Minnerup outside the liquor store around the same time as law enforcement officials say the murder took place.
“That confession and the witnesses are the only things the state had against Ray,” Gordon said. “The jury was out 12 hours with the confession and only out 10 minutes with the death penalty decision.”
Contact Krystal J. Carman, 341-1101, or e-mail email@example.com.