Posted by: kathyhugs | March 15, 2009

New Forensic Evidence Revealed at Hearing

On Friday, March 13th there was a hearing to determine the legality of the September 2008 search warrant. The article below was in the paper the next day.
Please read with caution as there are details here that I would rather not have read. Prayers are needed for Judge Bruzzese. We will wait and see what happens after the written statements are made. Our prayer is that the warrant is declared legal and this goes to trial in May.

Forensic evidence emerges during hearing for Amato
By TOM GIAMBRONI/
LISBON – A preview of forensic evidence that could be introduced at the J.C. Amato Jr. murder trial came out during a Friday court hearing over a search warrant that resulted in additional charges being filed against him.
Defense attorney James Hartford is seeking to throw out the search warrant and resulting evidence that led to Amato being charged under a separate indictment with having firearms while under indictment for murder and possessing pipe bombs.
Amato is scheduled to go on trial Aug. 18 in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court for shooting Tonia Amato to death at their Wellsville home on July 1, 2007. Amato, 37, has admitted shooting his 25-year-old wife but claims it was in self-defense after she shot at him with a handgun while they were arguing.
Since the shooting, Amato has been living at his father’s home in Yellow Creek Township. Last September, investigators obtained a court order to search the home for the handgun used to shoot Tonia Amato after a bullet recovered at the scene didn’t match the handgun Amato said he used. During the search, investigators found reported firearms, pipe bombs and bomb components in Amato’s bedroom, resulting in the additional charges.
Detective Andy Sweeney of the county sheriff’s testified yesterday he obtained the September 2008 search warrant after tests showed the bullet found with Tonia Amato’s DNA was not fired from the .45-caliber handgun Amato said he used to shoot her. The bullet didn’t match any of the weapons seized in the September search warrant either.
Hartford maintains the affidavit Sweeney provided to Judge C. Ashley Pike as the basis for obtaining the search warrant was misleading because no forensic evidence has been introduced to date proving the bullet is the one that killed Tonia Amato, and suggested that Sweeney stretched the facts to obtain the warrant.
Hartford pointed out the report from the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office stated only that Tonia Amato’s DNA was found on the bullet, and made no conclusion as to whether it was involved in her death. “That report doesn’t confirm that, does it?” Hartford asked.
“No,” Sweeney said.
“You have no idea whether this is the same bullet, do you?” Hartford added.
Later, Special Prosecutor Lynn Grimshaw cross-examined Sweeney, who spent more than an half the two-hour hearing on the witness stand. “You didn’t lie in front of Judge Pike, did you?” Grimshaw asked.
“No sir. I wouldn’t lie,” Sweeney replied.
Sweeney said the basis of the search warrant was the totality of the evidence.
He testified the .45-caliber bullet was found on July 3, 2007- two days after the shooting -in a cardboard box sitting on a kitchen shelf in the home. The box contained a bullet-size hole in the side.
The reason investigators didn’t find the bullet sooner is because they weren’t looking. The medical personnel who responded to the shooting failed to detect an exit wound, even though Tonia Amato was shot between the eyes. The presence of an exit wound was discovered on July 2, 2007, during an autopsy by the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office.
Dr. Dan Galita of the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office testified yesterday the exit wound was missed by those at the crime scene because it was blocked by where Tonia Amato’s thick hair had been pulled tight into a ponytail, “and we checked the ponytail when we did the autopsy.”
Ed Lulla, a special agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, testified he was called to assist at the crime scene on July 3, and that it was Wellsville police officer Mike Garber who actually found the bullet in the box. Based on the evidence and suggested path of the gunshot, Lulla believes the bullet is the one that killed Tonia Amato.
As for the bullet, Carrie Martin Bauscher of the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office is the one who performed the test that found Tonia Amato’s DNA on the bullet. Under questioning by Hartford, Bauscher said the DNA tests were of swabs of evidence taken from the bullet tip, and not the actual bullet.
Bauscher said no blood was found in the swabs but indicated it is possible a bullet could be wiped clean of blood by going through a skull, thick patch of hair and a box.
Dr. Galita said X-rays showed minute metal particles in Tonia’s Amato brain that could be from the bullet, although no such evidence has been introduced. The amount found indicated the bullet could have lost less than 10 percent of its mass.
Hartford pointed out this contradicts Galita’s previous claims, but Galita said he changed his estimate after re-examining the evidence in January, adding it is impossible to determine how much mass/weight was lost unless he is provided an exact replica bullet for comparison analysis.
Things got a little testy with Galita, who said he only came up with the original estimate because he felt “pressured” by Hartford into telling him what he wanted him to say, which Hartford disputed.
Sweeney said the bullet was the only one found in the home. “We searched that house inside and out and there were no other bullets,” he said.
Hartford noted the crime scene was released the same day as the murder, suggesting it could have been contaminated during the period before investigators returned to search for the bullet. “There were any of a number of people who had access to that house after the scene was cleared,” Hartford said.
One of those people would have been attorney Chris Amato, who sat at the defense table with Hartford and attorney Nick Amato. Chris Amato was among three people who returned to the house the night following the shooting to retrieve some personal belongings on behalf of J.C. Amato’s family. While there, a small explosion occurred, slightly injuring Angelo Luckino and requiring the fire department be called. The results of the investigation into explosion by the state fire marshal has yet to be released, but it has been described as an accident.
Jefferson County Common Pleas Court Joseph Bruzzese Jr. was assigned to rule on Hartford’s motion because Judge Pike can’t rule on one of his own decisions. Before issuing a decision, Bruzzese gave Grimshaw one week to file his written arguments and Hartford another week to respond.

tgiambroni@mojonews.com

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