A continued discussion of the Carla Hughes murder trial, by Curt Crowley, a Jackson, MS Criminal Defense Lawyer.
On Friday, the State called Carla Hughes’ cousin, Patrick Nash, to testify. Nash stated that he had given a .38 caliber Rossi handgun to Hughes prior to the murder of Avis Banks. Nash also identified the murder weapon as the gun he gave to Hughes. Nash testified that Hughes returned the pistol to him two days after Banks was killed. Later, after hearing of Banks’ murder, he took the gun to Ridgeland Police. This is considered to be the turning point in the investigation, and pointed police to Hughes as a suspect. Based upon what I’ve seen, if Nash had not taken the weapon to the police, Hughes likely would not have been charged with the murder.
Nash’s father, James Nash, also took the witness stand and corroborated most of Patrick’s story. A ballistics expert established that the weapon was, in fact, the gun used to kill Avis Banks.
The testimony from these witnesses really didn’t establish anything new. Most of these facts were already conceded by the defense. The fact that Hughes took the weapon back to Patrick Nash just two days after the murder is suspicious, and could not have helped the defense.
The most interesting testimony came from Bill Jones, the section chief in charge of DNA analysis at the Mississippi Crime Lab. As you know, Avis Banks’ blood was found on a pair of Hughes’ shoes. However, when Jones examined the shoes, he didn’t see any blood. He then swabbed the shoes to test for the presence of blood or other DNA. The tests came back negative. The State then sent the shoes to Scales Biological Laboratory, a private lab, for additional testing and the blood was “discovered.” Jones testified the blood may have been missed during his examination because he did not swab the entire surface of the shoe.
Bo Scales of the Scales Lab testified that he examined and swabbed the shoes, and that the results were positive for blood. Curiously, he also testified that the package which contained the shoes was not sealed when he received it.
In the words of famed criminalist Dr. Henry Lee, “something wrong here.” I find it very troubling that the Mississippi Crime Lab found no blood when the shoes were examined there, but when the shoes went to the private lab, the blood was suddenly found. Jones’ explanation for how he missed the blood was weak. He didn’t swab the entire surface of the shoe? Excuse me, Bill, but this is a damn homicide case and you didn’t swab the whole shoe? Are you freaking kidding me?
Also troubling is the fact that the package containing the shoes was not sealed when it arrived at Scales. I’m not ready to accuse anyone of planting the blood on the shoes just yet. However, Hughes is on trial for capital murder. The State is seeking the death penalty. In addition, the Avis Banks’ family is seeking justice, and they’re entitled to answers about what happened. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the parties involved. With so much on the line, the handling of the forensic evidence in this case was inexcusably, and unforgivably, sloppy. Ms. Hughes, the victim’s family, and the public at large deserve better than this.
The State rested at the end of the day. The defense will begin putting on it’s case today. Yes, they’re working on Saturday. No word yet on whether Carla Hughes will take the stand in her own defense.