YAKIMA, Wash. – Blood found at various places in and around a Granger mobile home most likely belongs to a woman allegedly killed by her husband, a forensic scientist said.
Trevor Chowen, a forensic scientist with the Washington State Patrol’s crime lab, testified Thursday that blood samples taken from a mattress, window frame, soil and a telephone box on the side of the Nass Road mobile home were a virtual match for Maria Gonzalez-Castillo, as were spots on the T-shirt her husband was wearing the day her remains were discovered.
Gonzalez-Castillo’s husband, 44-year-old Jaime Munguia Alejandre, is on trial for murder in connection with her death.
Prosecutors allege that Alejandre killed his wife with a blow to the head and then dismembered and burned her remains in a backyard garbage pit on June 2, 2017, as their children slept.
Chowen was one of three crime lab scientists who testified Thursday in the trial in Yakima County Superior Court.
Analyzing samples collected by investigators, Chowen said DNA extracted from blood stains on the couple’s mattress, inside the bedroom window frame, on the ground underneath the window and smeared on a telephone utility box outside the single-wide mobile home were virtually identical to Gonzalez-Castillo’s unique genetics.
“We do not as a policy make an identification of a person,” Chowen told jurors. “We run through a statistical probability” of whether it matches.
But he said the odds of finding someone in the United States besides Gonzalez-Castillo who would match that DNA profile were about one in 9.1 octillion. An octillion is a one followed by 27 zeroes.
Also matching to the same degree of accuracy with Gonzalez-Castillo’s DNA were drops of blood found on the shirt Alejandre was wearing at the time and the barrel of the .22-caliber Winchester rifle prosecutors say was the murder weapon. But Aaron Dalan, Alejandre’s attorney questioned whether the DNA that the blood stains were being compared to was really Gonzalez-Castillo.
He pointed out that Chowen was using DNA from the remains found in the burn pit.
“The question is, if we are trying to figure out who the person in the burn pit is, why are we taking samples from the person in the burn pit?” Dalan asked.
“I’m trying to determine who deposited the material that was found at the scene,” Chowen said, adding that it was not his job to determine her identity.
On Wednesday, Dr. Ryan Andersen, a Yakima dentist, explained to jurors how he used dental records to identify the remains as those of Gonzalez-Castillo.
But two other state scientists said they were not able to find fingerprints or evidence of liquid fuel used to burn Gonzalez-Castillo’s remains.
Sheri Jenkins, a state crime lab scientist, said samples from charred material in the pit and soil near it did not show any signs that gasoline or other ignitable liquids were used to burn the bones. But she said that did not mean an accelerant was not used as efforts to put out the fire could have washed residues away, traces could have evaporated by the time samples were taken or samples were gathered from areas that were not exposed to an accelerant.
Jeremy Phillips, another crime lab scientist, said his examination of the rifle failed to find any usable fingerprints on it.
“The best surfaces (for fingerprints) are the ones we manipulate frequently,” Phillips explained.
Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on the remains, testified that Gonzalez-Castillo was killed by a blow to the head from the rifle’s butt.
Also testifying was Erika Lopez-Gonzalez, who said Alejandre approached her at Legends Casino Hotelin the spring of 2017 and asked her out. She said he also texted her a couple times, but she did not have a relationship with him.
“I started feeling like it was wrong,” Lopez-Gonzalez said. She told jurors that Alejandre never mentioned his wife, but said he had a daughter.
The trial before Judge Gayle Harthcock is expected to continue into next week.