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Lab techs: Forensics draw no link between Burke and murders

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Findings come on fifth day of testimony

By Marty Finley

Lab technicians testified Monday that multiple items they analyzed during the investigation into Tracy Burke and Karen Comer’s deaths did not produce blood or DNA evidence linking former U.S. Army Sgt. Brent Burke to the murders.

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Likewise, broken glass fragments taken from a door of Comer’s Rineyville home did not match glass shards taken from a floor mat in Brent Burke’s Chrysler minivan, said Jack Reid, a forensic specialist with the Kentucky State Police crime lab.

Reid analyzed the mat along with pieces of clothing and shoes belonging to Brent Burke.

For each item he reviewed, Reid told the jury he found small fragments, but they were too small to identify, rendering them useless to the investigation.

Earlier in the day, Frank Crane, a latent fingerprint specialist, said he tested five shell casings from the crime scene for fingerprints, but his test too was inconclusive because the partial prints could not be identified.

Crane said the heat of a gun blast can tarnish the integrity of a fingerprint on a shell casing because the prints are 98 percent water. Once the shells are fired, he said, most of the moisture is evaporated.

The largest chunk of testimony Monday came from forensic specialist Steven Barrett, who analyzed dozens of items taken from Brent Burke, Tracy Burke and Karen Comer.

Barrett also analyzed a brown towel and a shirt retrieved by KSP that belonged to DeShawn White, a teen KSP has said took credit for the murders.

Barrett said he found blood samples on the towel, but he did not say it belonged to either Burke or Comer.

During cross examination by defense attorney John Shaughnessy, Barrett was asked to clarify for the jury on numerous occasions if any of the items he analyzed belonging to Brent Burke contained the blood of either woman.

At each turn, Barrett said no blood was found.

Barrett also analyzed Burke’s van and tested a stain found on an arm rest to determine if it was blood, but he said the stain’s origin could not be determined nor could it be identified as the blood of either woman.

Prosecutor Jeff England asked Barrett if the stain could have been compromised, to which Barrett said factors, such as the environment or cleaning, can break down blood enough to destroy its ability to be identified.

But Shaughnessy countered in cross examination by asking Barrett if Burke’s van appeared to be cleaned when he analyzed it.

Judging by its appearance, Barrett responded, no cleaning had occurred.

The testimony came on a fast-paced day as the prosecution called a flurry of witnesses before noon, some of which were on the stand for a matter of minutes.

Tawnie Blue, Tracy Burke’s former sister-in-law, said Burke told her he owned a gun he kept under the seat of his vehicle during a visit to her Radcliff home a few weeks before the murders occurred in September 2007.

Blue said Burke mentioned the gun after he started opening a toy for one of his sons with a large knife. Blue said she mentioned the size of the knife to Burke and he responded that he could use the gun if she preferred. Burke followed the comment with a chuckle, she added.

Blue said she never saw the gun Burke mentioned, and he left her home shortly after the comment was made. Blue also said Burke called her on the day of the murders asking if she had talked to Tracy Burke recently and she told him she did not maintain regular contact with Tracy anymore.

Burke’s roommate at Fort Campbell also testified, telling jurors Burke left their room on the night of the murders and returned early the next morning, but he said Burke’s late-night absences were not unusual.

The trial will resume 9 a.m. Wednesday in Hardin Circuit Court at the Hardin County Justice Center in Elizabethtown. Tuesday is motion hour day at the Justice Center and Judge Kelly Mark Easton reached an agreement with attorneys and the jury to suspend trial testimony on those days.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com