WATERLOO, Iowa — A former Davenport Police evidence technician told a Black Hawk County jury Tuesday about the department’s effort to collect and analyze evidence as they investigated the death of 9-year-old Jennifer Lewis in September 1990.
Dennis Kern, who now works as a criminalist with the state crime lab, testified much of Tuesday, the seventh day of testimony in the trial of the Rock Island girl’s alleged killer, Stanley Liggins, 56.
Lewis’ burning body was found in a field near Jefferson Elementary School in Davenport around 9 p.m. Sept. 17, 1990. Prosecutors say the girl had been sexually abused, strangled, doused with gasoline and set on fire.
Kern, then a lieutenant with the police department, testified Tuesday that the girl’s body was taken to a local hospital that night and an autopsy was conducted.
He testified that he got fingerprints from her left hand and compared it with her school papers to make an identification, he said.
A sexual assault kit also was conducted and analyzed in 1990 and again in 2014.
Sabrina Seehafer, a criminalist with the state crime lab who most recently examined the kit, testified Tuesday that the DNA can deplete due to heat or exposure to a chemical.
Liggins, an acquaintance of Lewis’ mother, Sheri, and stepfather, Joseph “Ace” Glenn, was developed quickly as a suspect in the case.
Retired Davenport Police Chief Don Schaeffer, the lead investigator on the case, testified Sept. 5 that Liggins became a primary suspect after witnesses told police that they saw Lewis talking to someone in a vehicle — identified as a red Peugeot — the night she disappeared.
One of the witnesses identified Liggins as the driver of the vehicle. His former girlfriend, Brenda Adams, testified last week that she smelled gasoline in the Peugeot the morning after Lewis was killed.
Police also learned that Liggins had been at the Glenns’ 7th Avenue house that night and had given Lewis a dollar to buy gum at a nearby liquor store.
Kern said the Peugeot and Liggins’ room at the Hillside Inn in Rock Island was searched for any fingerprints, fibers, hairs or any other trace evidence that linked him to Lewis.
None of the evidence that was submitted could be associated with either Lewis or Liggins’ property, Kern testified.
When questioned by Scott County Attorney Mike Walton, Kern said that the absence of any sort of forensic evidence doesn’t necessarily rule out that Lewis was in Liggins’ car or room.
“There’s no guarantee that you’re going to find it, there’s no guarantee that it was left,” he testified.
Kern testified that he found Liggins’ fingerprint on the handle of a gas can found in the trunk of the Peugeot
He testified that a subsequent search of the car found that the carpet underneath the back seat of the vehicle was moist.
When questioned by defense attorney Aaron Hawbaker, Kern said he did not know whether the moisture was from bleach or a cleaner.
He also said there was no indication that a sponge and a bucket found in the trunk of the car had been recently used or had any fluids or residue from a cleaner.
Kern testified that nothing from the Glenn home, such as clothing or bedding, was submitted to the lab for analysis.
He said that he would expect the girl’s DNA to be found in her own home, and any fibers belonging to her stepfather found on her clothes or in her bedroom wouldn’t tell him if it was because they lived in the same house or were associated with her death.
Police also did not send any items seized from the vehicle and home of another man who also was at the Glenn home on Sept. 17 to the state crime lab, Kern said.
Testimony continues Wednesday.
Liggins has been tried and convicted twice in the 1990s in Lewis’ death. Both convictions were overturned.
His third trial was moved to Black Hawk County due to extensive pretrial publicity surrounding the case.