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Experts explain blood, tire markings

Jurors hear from criminalist, detective about gruesome evidence in Stephens’ murder trial

Posted: October 19, 2010 10:24 p.m.
Updated: October 20, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Police photographs of tire marks and blood stains painted a graphic picture of the deadly brawl that claimed the life of 20-year-old Joshua Pipho three years ago.

Evidence presented Tuesday at the murder trial of Michael Dean Stephens hinged on two key points: blood and tire marks left at the Stevenson Ranch apartment complex where Pipho died.

Criminalist Stephan Schliebe testified he gathered samples of blood stains, smears and spatter from the Diamond Head apartment complex Nov. 23, 2007, from a dark blue Lincoln Mark VIII car and from a single-family home on Singer Place.

Schliebe exhausted an entire alphabet using letters to list the number of blood samples he collected from the home’s garage, washing machine, an upstairs shower door, clothing found in a dryer, as well as blood found inside, outside and underneath the car.

Deputy District Attorney Mary Sedgwick placed exhibit photograph 250 on the overhead projector, however, the image was too much for Pipho’s mother.

Cindy Pipho doubled over in the courtroom and cried.

Photograph 250 showed a bright red blood smear on the hard gray metal of the car’s undercarriage.

Blood evidence
Schliebe told the jury he found several other blood stains, smears and spatters on the underside of the car.

He explained that when detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in Santa Clarita removed the car from the garage on Singer Place, he found a tiny pile of dried blood flakes on the garage floor.

Blood samples were collected from the car’s steering wheel, driver’s seat, gas pedal and from the threshold of the driver’s door interior.

“This depicts a smear of blood from the lower portion of the passenger door in a swoop to the bottom of the door,”
Schliebe said, describing the photographs Sedgwick kept showing to the jury.

In her opening statements presented at the start of the Stephens trial, Sedgwick said after Stephens stabbed Pipho 16 times, Stephens got into his car and ran over Pipho intentionally. He then ran down Chad Weitz, then got back out of his car and stabbed Weitz 16 times.

On Tuesday, Stephens’ blood-spattered Lincoln Mark VIII was the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case.

A portion of a car’s grill recovered at the Diamond Head scene matched a missing portion of the Lincoln recovered later, Schliebe said.

As well as at least four other car pieces found scattered at the same scene were identified as the same plastic material used in the manufacturing of Lincoln grills, he added.

In explaining a photo of the car’s front-end undercarriage, Schliebe pointed out evidence of pronounced scraping.

Bits of grass and dirt were also found embedded in the center of the car’s undercarriage, he said.

Speeding car
Whereas blood dominated evidence presented Tuesday afternoon, evidence of a speeding car was presented in the morning.

Detective Jeff Maag, a traffic investigator with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who has testified in court as a traffic expert, began his testimony saying he has investigated more than 1,500 traffic scenes.

He told court he found tire-mark evidence in the Diamond Head complex that showed one car accelerating at high speeds in at least three separate locations inside the complex.

Maag made the distinction clear for the jury that the tire marks were not “skid marks,” which indicate braking, but rather “scuff marks,” which indicate accelerating.

In two of the scuff marks examined, the car leaving the mark had accelerated so quickly that the tires left the pavement in spots.

“This is critical speed,” he said.

Maag explained how he used illuminated square markers to graphically illustrate vehicle movement.

A couple of the photographs depicting the square markers showed a trail left by a car ripping up grass and moving along a sideway.

San Fernando Superior Court Judge Daniel B. Feldstern described the traffic investigator’s markers as “lights used in landing a plane.”

Stephens’ defense lawyer Peter J. Korn addressed the jury only once Tuesday, in cross-examining a Diamond Head resident who said she saw two young men running to a third man standing by a car underneath her balcony.

Korn asked Michele Hill if she recalled telling detectives the night of the incident that she saw only two men.
The trial continues today with more testimony expected about blood samples.


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