DNA Cup In Play

Former Devereux School night supervisor Darren Boyer Thomas—charged with raping and impregnating an autistic Devereux resident—returned to Judge Brian Hill’s court last week to talk about a Starbucks coffee cup. The defense’s motion to suppress DNA evidence lifted from the coffee cup—matching Thomas’s DNA to that of the victim’s terminated fetus—was denied by Judge Hill after hearing conflicting testimony from Thomas and two Sheriff’s Department investigators last Thursday morning.

According to detectives, Thomas knowingly met with them at a Goleta Starbucks in June 2004 and, after about 30 minutes of chatting, excused himself from the conversation to go to the bathroom, throwing his coffee cup into a nearby trashcan as he entered the building. Detective Chris Dallenbach testified that “three seconds later” he legally retrieved the cup and took it into evidence. While corroborating Dallenbach’s testimony, Detective Karen Shepard alluded to a tape recording of the meeting; Thomas’s attorney Steve Baylash protested, saying the defense had been provided no such tape. Judge Hill agreed, ordering prosecutors to hand over the recording.

Thomas, meanwhile, recalled a different sequence of events; he claimed he went to the bathroom—leaving behind his coffee cup and other possessions—only after the investigators departed. According to Thomas, when he returned from the bathroom he saw the officers had come back and were walking away from the table a second time, then noticed his coffee cup was missing. Boiling the matter down to an “issue of credibility” and citing the Fourth Amendment in regards to an individual’s right to privacy, Hill ruled in favor of the prosecution. After the hearing, Baylash acknowledged the uphill nature of his DNA motion and expressed optimism that after reviewing the investigators’ tape of the conversation he might have cause to re-file his challenge. Thomas’s case goes to trial in April, at which time Baylash intends to highlight evidence that while the victim and fetus tested positive for syphilis, Thomas did not. “The syphilis thing is a real mystery—obviously she’s had sex with someone who isn’t Darren,” observed Baylash

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