The case of State -v- Arnold Gardener appeared on the calendar in a New Grace Courthouse for a hearing. Mr. Gardener is charged with the murder of New Grace Deputy Sheriff Horace Nevada who disappeared on February 12, 2008 and whose body was discovered in April 2016 in a freezer in a shed. Mr. Gardener is also charged with the murder of Linda Leeds under a separate docket number.
During the forensic examination of the shed and its contents the investigative team discovered fingerprints belonging to convicted serial killer Lowery. They also recovered prints that matched the defendant Arnold Gardener, a man with a conviction for robbery, now on parole. Mr. Gardener was no longer considered a suspect when it was discovered he worked at a Pick and Haul Scrapyard where it is assumed the materials to build the metal shed were purchased. Upon further investigation a partial print belonging to the defendant was found inside the freezer. Mr. Gardener was arrested as he tried to cross into Mexico from Arizona.
Rachel Shorte of Henley, Martin and Keley, representing the defendant, brought a motion to exclude the results of a fingerprint analysis relied on by the prosecution.
Ms. Shorte presented the prosecution’s expert Evan Erron, Phd. with a partial combined fingerprint compiled by an independent fingerprint expert and asked that he compare it with partial prints found at the scene. When he indicated that would be very time consuming, she provided him with four prints found at the scene. By his signature Dr.Erron confirmed that he had previously been provided those same prints for analysis. When questioned Dr. Erron admitted that the combined partial print provided by Ms. Shorte was indeed compiled using three of the four partial prints Ms. Shorte had admitted into evidence.
Although the prosecutor, Una O’Shea, argued that Ms, Shorte demonstration was irrelevant and a waste of time, Judge Probyn Thompson permitted Ms. Shorte to continue.
Next Ms. Shorte provided three fingerprint cards with the names of the individual covered so they could not be read. She asked Dr. Erron to see if he could match the combined partial print she provided with any of the cards. He found a match on card number two and then uncovered the name on the card. The combined partial fingerprint was a six point match to the left index finger belonging to none other than Judge Probyn Thompson.
Ms. Short argued that the act of combining several partial prints to make one greater partial print is art not science and highly unreliable. She further stated that the prosecution’s expert Dr. Erron was biased in his interpretation of the partial prints by the pool of known suspects.
Judge Thompson ruled in the defense’s favor, disallowing the three point partial match to Arnold Gardener be submitted at trial. Ms. Shorte then moved the court to dismiss the case against her client as the fingerprint was the only actual evidence connecting him with the crime. This motion was also granted and the case was dismissed without prejudice.
Prosecutor Una O’Shea stated with certainty that her office would be refiling against Mr. Gardner when new evidence is obtained
However, when questioned about the ruling, Sheriff Ozell Keith said, “I would say I was disappointed with the judge’s ruling, but presenting the judge’s own print was compelling proof that there is a problem with relying on partial prints. It appears we have no way of telling which of these men killed Deputy Navada and Linda Leeds or if both people were even killed by the same person.”