DNA expert testifies in Day 3 of Pollok murder trial

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - By Morgan Thomas - email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The third day of a retrial began in a six-year-old murder case with a DNA expert on the stand.

Jarrard Holland is being tried a second time for the 2004 shooting death of his then-girlfriend O'Quinn. O'Quinn was found dead at a home where the couple supposedly lived on Tom Hampton Road in Pollok. Holland was tried for the murder back in October 2007. The five-day trial ended with a hung jury.

District Attorney Clyde Herrington called Kenneth Balagot, who analyzed the DNA in the case, to the stand.  At the beginning of his testimony the defense objected to a statement he made about his lab partner's testimony from Thursday.

The jury was asked to leave courtroom. The defense questioned the witness about a meeting with the prosecutor and the forensic scientists.

The defense asked either Balagot's testimony be thrown out or that a mistrial be declared.  Witnesses are not allowed to speak about their testimony or what they will say during the trial, the defense said. Judge Paul White disagreed and instead gave a third option: The judge can bring in a federal courtroom law that allows expert witnesses like forensic scientists to talk about testimony because their testimony is based on scientific fact.

Herrington showed Balagot, the DNA analyzer, the items where the DNA was taken. A paper bag with the jeans and doily were presented as evidence. Balagot clarified that he did not deal with the whole item, but a small piece from the item.

An unknown male's DNA was found on the jeans, T-shirt and doily.  O'Quinn's DNA was mixed with the male's on the doily and was the major contributor.  The hair was a match to O'Quinn, Balagot said.

When this first report on the DNA was completed in March 2006, Balagot said he only had O'Quinn's DNA to compare, and not Holland's.

Later, a hand towel with Holland's DNA was submitted for comparison for DNA analysis.  It was compared with the items, and he was found to be the unknown male DNA contributor on all items, Balagot said.

State then called trace evidence specialist David Spence to the stand. He testified that he analyzed a shirt from O'Quinn and a hoodie sweatshirt from Holland. He tested for the metallic elements found in gunshot residue: alimony, lead and barium.

The back part of the left sleeve of the hoodie sweatshirt tested positive for the elements in gun shot residue, Spence said.

Spence was also asked to look at hair samples to see if they were forcibly removed. If the hairs had roots in an active growing state, antigen phase, they could be designated as forcibly removed, he said. He found some of the hairs to be forcibly removed, he said.

Kimberley O'Quinn's grandfather is impressed with the improvement in the expert testimony in the second trial.

"It's different the way the witnesses compose themselves. They were more relaxed and confident... It's been a long time and naturally people get smarter and brighter," said John O'Quinn.

Testimony began Friday afternoon with Holland's brother-in-law, Steven Patrick Strickland, testifying about the night he went to his in-law's house for Holland's birthday party. Holland said he was friends with Greggory Cordova, a man who testified earlier in this trial that both he and Strickland went to find O'Quinn and render aid after Holland said she killed herself.

Strickland said he remembers Holland and O'Quinn both being at the birthday party that night. He said everyone was getting along that night until "…an argument ensued with Kim and Jarrard."

He explained the argument escalated. It was, "…kind of mild then it escalated to maybe a little bit more aggressive." He said both O'Quinn and Holland were mad.  He said O'Quinn's arguing became louder than Holland and profanity was used. Strickland said as the argument continued he heard Holland say to O'Quinn, "…leave get out, get your stuff and go." He said if he quoted Holland exactly that night he would have to use a lot of profanity and he preferred to not repeat Holland's exact words.

Strickland said O'Quinn left the party at Holland's parent's house after the argument escalated. He said she went about a quarter of a mile down the road to the house where she and Holland were living.  Strickland testified Holland left after O'Quinn. He said about 15 minutes later Holland returned to the gathering.

"We could hear the vehicle coming down the road, loud, flying, going very fast," remembered Strickland.  He said Holland, "…Jumps out of the truck and just starts screaming she shot herself she [really] blew her head off."

Strickland said he and Cordova left to check on O'Quinn, but Holland stayed at his parent's house.

He said when he arrived at the couple's trailer home, he remembered seeing O'Quinn's car door open and "stuff" was in the car. Strickland said when he entered the couple's house, the living room was messy, "then I saw the hair in the floor as we walked towards the bedroom."

"Just stranded brown hair kind of wadded up on the floor," Strickland said to describe the scene.

Strickland explained when they went into the bedroom it was "messy, in disarray."

"She had a bullet wound underneath her chin and was kind of gasping for breath …and a gun laid right down the center of her body," described Strickland.  He said the barrel of the gun was pointed towards her head.

"Kind of straight out, straight-legged, hands to her side, head kind of cocked a little bit as she was gasping," he said of O'Quinn that night.

Strickland said he, "Just kind of stood there, shocked for a minute."

Strickland called 911.

He said he tried describing the scene to the dispatcher asking if there was anything he should do to help O'Quinn.  He said Cordova went to meet the ambulance because it was pretty dark.

"He [Cordova] said don't touch [anything,]" Strickland remembered.

"Stay with me…an ambulance is on its way," Strickland said he tried telling O'Quinn.

He said he helped the paramedics put the backboard underneath O'Quinn, but he didn't move O'Quinn that March 2004 night.

A lawyer from Holland's defense team, Stephanie Stephens, questioned Strickland about his relationships with both Holland and Cordova. He said it's been many years since he talked with Holland and a few months since he's talked to Cordova. He said Cordova and he have been friends for quite a long time.

Stephens showed Strickland pictures from the trailer and a picture of the wad of hair in the floor. She worked to get him to clarify how much hair he actually saw in the trailer that night.

Strickland went on to say at the party both O'Quinn and Holland were using profanity when they were arguing. Strickland said Holland was distraught when he arrived back at his parent's residence.

Strickland said he's talked to a lot of people about what happened that night.

Stephens confronted Strickland about telling one of his hair salon clients he moved O'Quinn's body, but put it back after Cordova said something.  However, Strickland denied saying any of it to his client. Strickland said he also has talked to his wife about the incident.

"I just went because I wouldn't leave anybody anywhere," he said of the night he saw O'Quinn with a gunshot wound.

He admitted normally if you saw someone in O'Quinn's condition you would want to help. However, he said Cordova said not to touch O'Quinn because of the look of the whole situation. He said it had only been probably a few seconds in the room when Cordova told him not to touch anything.

Strickland said he and Cordova didn't talk a "whole lot" about the incident before they gave a statement to the Angelina County Sheriff's Office.  Stephens pressed Strickland about getting his story straight with Cordova before giving a statement.

"We didn't have to get our story straight," he stated.

Later Strickland testified, "I didn't touch the table, nor did I touch Kim's body."

Strickland said the Sheriff's Office did have to call several times before they went down to give a statement.

Strickland, a former hair dresser, told Herrington the hair he saw in the trailer that night appeared stranded.

"It means that if it was pulled out, it took more force, than as if it had been brushed out," he said.

Stephens asked Strickland if he knew people could pull their hair out if they were stressed out or having a panic attack.

The defense asked Strickland if he didn't want to get in trouble for tampering with the scene that night, but Strickland said that wasn't true.

"I told the truth the entirety of the whole ordeal," he said.

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