Reporter’s Notebook: Urango Trial 2/13

The following are tidbits and outtakes that didn’t make it into recent stories about the trial of Manuel David Urango, the man charged with killing Alia Ansari in Fremont’s Glenmoor neighborhood in October 2006. The trial started in mid-January and is expected to last through the end of the month.

Session date: Feb. 13, 2008

Daughter’s interview:

Jurors watched the first 30 minutes of a 45-minute long videotaped interview in which Ansari’s daughter is asked about her mother’s killing. The video, which appears to be shot from the ceiling of a playroom, opens with the interviewer walking in with the daughter, who was 3 years and 11 months at the time, and asking her about certain colors. The girl does not know the difference between black and white. At one the girl pointed to the interviewer’s skirt and said it was red. It was actually black.

At first the girl says she wants her mom, and then asks if she was at the hospital. When asked what happened to her mom, the girl said, “That guy. He had a gun. He shoot my mom.” The interviewer then asked if the girl saw the gunman and the girl said, “He was next to my mom … I see blood come out.”

When asked to describe the killer, the girl said several times, “I just don’t know.”

The remainder of the tape is expected to be played Tuesday morning when the trial resumes. 

Gunshot residue:

*Recent stories have reported that Manuel Urango’s attorney is named William Caruthers, and it is. But starting with Thursday’s story, we’ve started to refer to him as Philip, his middle name. Mr. Caruthers did not request this change. Actually he does mind being called William,  but I’ve changed it to accurately reflect the way he is commonly addressed in court.

*Forensic analyst Laurie Kaminski testified at length about gunshot residue, more commonly referred to as “GSR.” Before Kaminski began her testimony, Caruthers objected to her being qualified as an “expert.” When asked how many times she’d been qualified as an expert in gunshot residue, Kaminski said nine times. There was no further dispute.

*There are two types of GSR: Muzzle Deposit and Primer Residue. Muzzle Deposit is comprised mainly of gunpowder and is expended from the barrel of the gun. Primer Residue is commonly made of lead, barium and antimony. These particles are typically found on the shooter’s hands and clothing. Did you know Primer Residue can only be seen under 2,500 to 4,000 magnification? Me neither.

*The combination of lead, barium and antimony are highly specific to Primer Residue. Some combinations of the elements may be found in brake pads and some commercial grade pyrotechnics. But the presence of all three elements usually means a positive test for GSR.

*While describing what she looks for when viewing suspected gunshot residue, Kaminski used the term “morphology” to describe the shape of certain particles. There’s a new vocabulary word.

*Kaminski tested a pair of Urango’s gloves, samples taken from both of his bare hands, as well as his T-shirt and pants for the presence of GSR. There were “several” particles on the palms and backs of both gloves; no residue on his right hand, and some on his left hand. More specifically, there were isolated particles of barium, and then the combination of lead, barium and antimony. An eye-witness to a shooting a day before Ansari’s death said he saw a man shoot a gun into the air at least five times. The shooter used his left hand, according to testimony. Caruther indicated in his opening statement that Urango was responsible for that shooting.

*When Urango was detained by police about 15 minutes after Ansari was killed, he got out of his car and immediately removed his shirt and threw it on the ground. Under questioning from prosecutor Jerry Herman, Kaminski said it is possible for GSR to come off a T-shirt during such activity. She went on to note that GSR is easily transferable.

*In terms of finding gunshot residue on a person’s hands, the expert said residue can remain for up to six hours, depending on what the person is doing. Normal activity, such as running your hand through your air, could decrease the number of particles found. This is also part of the reason why police often place bags over the hands of shooting suspects.

*At one point Caruthers asked the expert if she knew that the FBI stopped conducting GSR testing. Kaminski said she knew, and then quickly pointed out that the decision was made “not because of a lack of faith in the science.” She went on to say it’s very expensive to maintain the high-powered equipment used in GSR testing and the government earmarked that money for anti-terrorism efforts.

*Did you know it can take anywhere from four to 20 hours to examine one GSR sample contained on a half-inch diameter testing tab?


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