A man arrested in a 2011 Schenectady burglary was acquitted this week amid questions of how DNA evidence was handled and where it even came from, the man’s attorney said.
Deon E. Lawrence, 36, of Burnt Hills, stood trial on one count of second-degree burglary for allegedly burglarizing a Craig Street residence Sept. 8, 2011. A jury found him innocent Wednesday afternoon.
Taken in the burglary was musical equipment and a computer with a combined value of more than $6,600. None of the items were ever recovered, according to Lawrence’s attorney, Brian Mercy.
Lawrence wasn’t charged until later, when DNA from a cigarette butt matched DNA from Lawrence registered in the state database.
Mercy, though, successfully questioned how the butt was handled, as well as whether it was even linked to the burglary. There was no other evidence linking Lawrence to the crime, Mercy said.
The case began after the residents returned home that evening and discovered their apartment ransacked, Mercy said. They had moved in only a week earlier.
They called police, and investigators and an evidence technician quickly responded. They dusted for fingerprints and took photos but found no evidence.
Shortly after they left, the residents spotted a suspicious cigarette butt on the kitchen floor. They didn’t smoke inside and it was a different brand than they used.
One of the residents called police again, eventually speaking with someone in the detective division, Mercy said.
It wasn’t until five days later, though, that an officer came by to pick it up, Mercy said.
In the meantime, the residents testified that they put it in a plastic Ziploc-style bag to keep for officers. The officer who finally picked it up, though, testified that it was in a paper wrapper, not a plastic bag, he said.
Looking back at the evidence photos, Mercy said a cigarette butt could be seen where the residents said they found it. However, he argued that there was no way to determine that the butts were the same. “Nobody could conclusively testify that the cigarette in the photograph was the one that was actually tested,” he said.
The street outside is well-traveled, he said. Many people, including smokers, pass by daily. The residents could have simply tracked the butt in on their shoes either moving in or afterward, he said.
Mercy said he spoke with the jury after the acquittal and the issues surrounding the recovery of the cigarette weighed heavily on their verdict.
The case was prosecuted by Ed Moynihan. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
Regarding the five-day delay in picking up the evidence, city police Lt. Eric Clifford was not able to get an explanation Friday afternoon. Police call notes don’t show a second call the night of the burglary, he said. The individuals directly involved in the case were unavailable to speak to Friday. Further checking would be needed to get a definitive answer, he said.
Mercy said Lawrence was thrilled by the acquittal. Lawrence had maintained his innocence throughout. He was released after the verdict. He had been held much of the time on unrelated cases.
“He actually came to see me the following morning to say how thankful he was,” Mercy said.