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DNA evidence introduced at Benjamin Marki trial

An expert witness said DNA from Pott and Chuchmuch found on items connected to Marki; Crown concludes case and defense declines to call evidence.
Pott Chuchmuch
Wilfred Pott, 60, and Anne Chuchmuch, 50, died on the night of Dec. 27, 2015. (tbnewswatch file photograph)

THUNDER BAY - Blood belonging to Wilfred Pott and Anne Chuchmuch, victims of a 2015 double homicide, were found on items connected to the accused, testified a DNA expert.

The trial against Benjamin Marki, who is facing two counts of second-degree murder, one count of arson endangering life, and one count of committing an indignity to a body continued in a Thunder Bay Courtroom on Monday.

Pott and Chuchmuch were found inside a Brant Street home on Dec. 27, 2015 after emergency crews responded to reports of a fire. Marki was arrested and charged several weeks later in connection to the deaths. Marki pleaded not guilty to all charges.

On the fifth day of the trial, Crown prosecutor, Andrew Sadler, called James Currie, a forensic expert at the Centre for Forensic Sciences, to testify.

During his testimony, Currie outlined tests conducted on various items collected from the scene on Brant Street that contained blood-like staining. These items included a paper towel used by Marki to wipe his hands that night, his socks and shoes, a pair of jeans found next to the burned remains of Chuchmuch, a knife, and fur samples from Marki’s two dogs.

The DNA collected from these items was used to create three distinct DNA profiles, which Currie explained could not be excluded from three individuals - Pott, Chuchmuch, and Marki.

According to Currie, DNA from the profile matching Chuchmuch was found on the dogs, Marki’s shoes, a knife and a piece of paper towel, the last two found in a garage behind the Brant Street residence.

The probability of the DNA not being from Chuchmuch varied depending on the size of the useable test locations taken from the items. In the case of one of the dogs, it was a one in four quadrillion chance it belonged to someone other than Chuchmuch, while other samples, including one sample taken from the paper towel, the probability was one in 390,000.

Pott’s DNA was also found on the paper towel and the knife, with a one in three quadrillion probability of it not belonging to Pott.

A burned pair of jeans found near the remains of Chuchmuch was also analyzed, with DNA from Chuchmuch found from swabs taken from blood-like staining samples, and DNA from Marki found taken from samples near the waistband.

“Fire will destroy DNA,” Currie said in his testimony of the jeans. “DNA is susceptible to heat and unravel. Heat and fire will impact my ability to generate a profile.”

According to Currie, Marki’s DNA was also found on the paper towel and a ring he was wearing. A stain on his left hand also indicated DNA profiles of three people, but could not be determined from which profiles.

During cross-examination, defense attorney, George Joseph, said he wasn’t challenging any of Currie’s conclusions, but brought up the notion of secondary transfer.

“If Anne and Will were actively bleeding and those two dogs rubbed up against them and I picked up those dogs, I could have blood on my hands?” Joseph asked.

“Yes,” Currie replied.

Det. Const. Kevin Bradley, a member of the criminal investigation branch with the Thunder Bay Police Service, was also called to testify on Monday.

During Bradley’s testimony, Sadler shared a surveillance video from a local liquor store that showed Marki purchasing a bottle of vodka and wearing jeans. A backpack found on the scene also contained a receipt from the same liquor store dated at the same time the surveillance footage was taken.

When Joseph cross-examined Bradley, he asked about procedures officers use when obtaining statements from members of the public who are intoxicated or under stress.

Bradley said in those situations it can be difficult to obtain accurate statements.

“Thunder Bay Police had no other suspects or persons of interests, correct?” Joseph asked.

“Correct,” Bradley replied.

The final witness for the Crown was Det. Dave Tinnes of the Thunder Bay Police Service. He was the case manager of the investigation and during his testimony he said the jeans were uncovered during a final walkthrough of the scene before it was released.

During cross-examination, Joseph asked Tinnes about Marki’s release from investigative detention on the night of the fire and the covert surveillance of Marki that began that night.

“The surveillance was for public safety because we feared he could be a danger to the public,” Tinnes said.

“He was the only person the evidence pointed to,” Tinnes added.

Joseph also asked if people in the neighbourhood were questioned about any possible connections to Pott or Chuchmuch. Tinnes said immediate neighbours were, but other connections to the victims were not looked into.

Following the Crown’s evidence, Joseph said the defense would not be calling any evidence in the trial.

Closing arguments will be made by the Crown and defense on Wednesday, with the Justice Terrence Platana charging the jury to follow.