Forensic scientists provide details about Niles Township crime scene

Published 8:44 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2019


ST. JOSEPH — During testimony presented Wednesday, the court learned forensic details about the crime scene in Niles Township where Carla Jean Lewis was fatally shot Aug. 13, 2017.

Carla’s husband, John Benton Lewis, has been charged with premeditated murder in the crime. The evidence was presented during the sixth day of the trial at the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph.

Jessica Ramirez, a forensic scientist with the Michigan State Police, testified that she collected fingerprints from the home of 1429 Lawndale, where Carla died. John has alleged that two unknown assailants entered their home and shot at them while they were moving plants in a marijuana grow room. John told police that the suspects fled the scene in Carla’s car. When he called 911, John reported that they had been robbed.

Ramirez collected 15 different samples from around the home to be examined. Of those, three had enough information to be analyzed.

Michael Behrendt is latent fingerprint examiner with the Michigan State Police. He received the samples that Ramirez collected. John’s prints were found on a sliding glass door in the sunroom and the exterior glass on the door leading from the garage to the kitchen. Behrendt said there was a third impression that he was not able to identify. He entered the information into an Automated Fingerprint Identification System, but no matches were found for the print. Behrendt said there could be a possibility that the print belonged to Carla or John. The unknown fingerprint will remain in the database.

Carla’s Mazda, which investigators found abandoned in a cornfield on Yankee Street on Aug. 17, was also tested for fingerprints and DNA. Earlier testimony has indicated that investigators are still searching for the driver of the vehicle.

The surface of the steering wheel, a bullet found in the cup holder of the car and the interior and exterior door handles of the vehicle were swabbed for fingerprints.

David Hayhurst, an expert in DNA analysis from the Michigan Department of State Police in the Grand Rapids forensic laboratory, testified that the samples for the steering wheel were likely not from John and indicated that they likely belonged to Carla and another unidentified individual. The interior and exterior door handle also seemed to indicate Carla’s DNA and the unknown individual. John’s DNA did not appear to be present on the car door handles tested. The unfired bullet cartridge seemed to be a mixture of two unknown individuals and both Carla and John’s DNA did not appear to be present.

Several items in the car were also fingerprinted and tested for DNA, including a syringe found in a plastic bag. Investigators were not able to identify the fingerprint on the plastic bag.

DNA from two witnesses who have testified, Chris Fulce and Andrew Betts provided DNA for testing. Both Betts and Fulce’s DNA did not appear to be present. DNA from Carla’s two grandsons was also tested and neither of their DNA was found on those items.

DNA samples collected from around the home indicated that a blood stain on the garage storm door and was likely from Carla. The blood stains collected from the basement stairs and a fitted sheet also likely belonged to Carla. A stain on the garage wall, which contained blood, likely was from John’s DNA.  However, there is no indication of how old the stain was.

“It could have been related to the scene or something deposited weeks or months prior,” Hayhurst said.

In her cross-examination, Assistant Jolene Weiner-Vatter sought to reemphasize that John’s DNA was not present on the samples taken from the car. Hayhurst said that was true.

She also questioned if any samples had been taken from the safe, where John is alleging items were taken. To which, Hayhurst said he had not.

Others who testified included Det. Sgt. Russell Karsten, a firearm and tool mark examiner with the Michigan State Police, forensic biologist Kirk DeLeeuw and fingerprint examiner Shawn Baker also testified.