Dave Roepke, Published September 16 2011
Murder trial DNA evidence at issue
In a hearing Thursday in front of Judge Galen Vaa, a Clay County prosecutor said testimony related to an alleged 2007 burglary in Becker County would help the state explain the mindset of Tracy Zornes, who is accused of killing Megan Londo and John Cadotte Feb. 19, 2010, and starting a fire at the apartment where the homicide victims were found at 901 9th Ave. S.
Zornes was charged with the 2007 burglary in Becker County after police claimed that DNA from a cigarette found at the scene matched Zornes’ in a search of DNA profiles of previously convicted offenders. That case was dismissed in May.
Assistant Clay County Attorney Matthew Greenley argued Thursday that if jurors knew Zornes had an awareness of how DNA can be left behind, it could help explain why police believe he set fire to the apartment and a car connected to the killings in Moorhead.
“We think it’s useful to show motive and intent in our case,” Greenley said.
Police have said much of the evidence in the deaths was destroyed in the early morning fire. Most of the investigation hasn’t been publicly disclosed yet, as the charges were filed via a grand-jury indictment, and grand juries hear evidence behind closed doors.
Before Vaa rules on the issues raised Thursday, he will consider the defense’s challenge of the statistical methods used to describe the results of the search of a DNA database.
Joe Parise, one of Zornes’ two attorneys, said matching a sample that way is different than comparing individual profiles, and defense attorneys may seek to have that search suppressed.
Vaa will rule on the issues before the trial on two counts of murder as well as arson and theft, which is slated to begin on Oct. 17 and expected to last three weeks – with the bulk of the first week likely devoted to selecting 12 jurors and three alternates from a pool of 60 possible jurors.
The defense is also asking Vaa to reconsider the ruling he made in May, in which a DNA sample police took from Zornes without a search warrant upon his arrest two weeks after the deadly fire was thrown out, but a statement he made just prior to search – “This wasn’t anything sexual” – was deemed admissible.
Vaa said he’d rule within days on the defense’s reiterated motion to suppress that the statement on grounds it was the product of an unlawful search.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535