Canine expert can testify on cadaver scent in Bianca Jones case, judge rules

Canine expert can testify on cadaver scent in Bianca Jones case, judge rules
August 24, 2012 
The Detroit News
Christine Ferretti

Detroit — A canine expert whose dog allegedly detected a cadaver scent in the home of a missing toddler will be allowed to testify at the murder trial of the girl's father, a judge ruled Friday.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Vonda R. Evans made the ruling after attorneys for D'Andre Lane spent more than two hours trying to discredit the relatively new scientific method. Lane is charged with first-degree murder and child abuse in the death of his 2-year-old daughter, Bianca Jones

"I believe the evidence offered is sufficient to go forward. The people should be allowed to demonstrate to a jury that your client was implicated in this particular murder," Evans told the defense. "I think your argument is to weight as opposed to admissibility."

The court Friday also denied a defense motion to halt proceedings in the case while the state Court of Appeals evaluates efforts by Lane's attorneys to have the case tossed out. The attorneys said they also plan to appeal Friday's ruling.

Two forensic canine experts testified Friday before Evans ruled to admit at trial the potential evidence, which is key for prosecutors in the case against Lane.

Danian Woodson, an attorney for Lane, tried to argue against the cadaver dog evidence. But Evans cut her off and denied the motion.

After the hearing, Woodson said the alleged evidence is "not admissible, not relevant, highly prejudicial and should be excluded."

Lane has claimed Bianca was in the back seat of his 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis on the morning of Dec. 2 when he was approached by armed carjackers near Brush Street and Grand River.

The vehicle was found shortly after, but the child was not inside. Her body has not been found.

Forensic canine expert Martin Grime testified Friday and at Lane's prior preliminary examination that he brought in his victim recovery dog, Morse, two days after the girl went missing. He said the dog detected a cadaver scent inside Lane's car, on the child's blanket and car seat, and in the girl's bedroom and Lane's home.

Grime said the dogs detect only the generic scent of human decomposition. The dogs, he said, cannot determine identity, age, race, gender or the rate of decomposition.

Grime testified in court Friday that Morse has never had a false positive response, and that testing done just prior and after the dog worked in the Jones case was successful.

"I believe that the testimony, his conclusion is based on principles and methods that have been in place for several years," Evans said of Grime.

Also Friday, Rex A. Stockham, a special agent for the FBI who oversees its forensic canine program, said the agency has been studying the science for about a decade.

The FBI began testing contract and volunteer teams for the human scent detection program in 2008, Stockham said. The agency has three full-time dogs working in the country.

The dogs are tested annually to ensure they meet best practices standards. Morse has only been tested one time, Stockham said.

Prosecutors allege Lane beat the toddler to death with an 18-inch stick with a towel wrapped in duct tape at the end over a potty training incident.

Lane's attorney, Terry Johnson, contends Lane did "spank" the child with the stick, but that there was no evidence of child abuse or murder since the girl's whereabouts is unknown.

Lane told Detroit Police he left his home around 7:45 a.m. Dec. 2. He dropped his nephew and 8-year-old daughter off before visiting a gas station, Wayne County Community College in Detroit and, with a friend, near the Greyhound bus station on Howard Street. The carjacking, Lane claimed, occurred just afterward, with only him and Bianca in the vehicle.

FBI agent Christopher Hess testified at Lane's preliminary examination that the defendant was unable to explain where he was for a 45-minute window around the time his daughter disappeared.

Lane's girlfriend, Anjali Lyons, has testified she awoke Dec. 2 to Bianca's screams as Lane used the stick to beat the toddler for urinating in bed. Later the same morning, Lane carried a silent Bianca to his car. She was covered with an animal print blanket.

Lane's trial is slated for Sept. 18.

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