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Published: 6/14/2007

Untested hair sample stops Toledo murder trial cold

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Untested hair from the crime scene where a 27-year-old woman was shot to death in September brought the Charles McDonald murder trial to a screeching halt yesterday as Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Frederick McDonald declared a mistrial.

The mistrial wasted two days of testimony and could delay a new trial for the defendant for up to six months.

Assistant Prosecutor Ian English said a report by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation's regional crime lab in Bowling Green surfaced yesterday stating that hair found on the bed of murder victim Ericka Graham was not tested.

Police accused McDonald of 1311 Fernwood Ave. of shooting Ms. Graham in the head early Sept. 25. She was found by her children at her apartment in the Brand Whitlock Homes.

Mr. English said the hair from the scene and McDonald's hair sample will be sent to an FBI or private crime lab to be tested. The testing could take two to six months, he said.

He said the BCI report was not communicated to prosecutors and then defense attorneys until yesterday. When asked how the mixup occurred, Mr. English said, "The buck stops here."

"This is important, and it has to get done," he said. "We were prepared, and you believe you've covered every angle, but in prosecution, stuff happens."

It was a frustrating ending for both prosecution and defense in a sometimes contentious trial that even included allegations of a murder-for-hire plot.

McDonald's attorney, Ronnie Wingate, who asked for the mistrial, said he believed the missing report was an oversight and didn't believe prosecutors were trying to keep information from the defense. He called the mistrial ruling fair.

"I knew it wasn't a guarantee, but knowing Judge McDonald and how fair he would want to be to defendant, I wasn't surprised by the ruling," Mr. Wingate said. "I think this helps us. I think the test will show that the hair doesn't belong to Mr. McDonald."

Jennifer Donovan, an assistant prosecutor, said she does not believe the testing will prove helpful to either side but understood Judge McDonald's ruling.

In Ms. Donovan's opening argument Monday, she said authorities believe McDonald bought the gun a day before the murder and shot Ms. Graham early Sept. 25.

Ms. Donovan also suggested McDonald then wanted to put a $10,000 murder-for-hire contract on then-girlfriend Janelle Lipkins because of her possible testimony in the case.

Ms. Lipkins testified that McDonald left his house for about an hour the morning of the murder and she didn't know where he went. Mr. Wingate had said in his opening arguments McDonald was home with Ms. Lipkins at the time of the shooting.

During Mr. Wingate's cross-examination of Ms. Lipkins, he tried to cast doubt on her testimony, suggesting she changed her story only after police told her about McDonald's suspected murder-for-hire plan.

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

chughes@theblade.com

or 419-724-6095.



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