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Blood spatter evidence is debated at Buck murder trial

Prosecutor Paul J. Narducci spent Tuesday morning trying to convince a panel of judges that the work of bloodstain analysts at the Connecticut Forensic Laboratory is science-based and subject to multiple checks and balances.

Defense attorney Hope C. Seeley attempted all afternoon to debunk the science behind the bloodstain work in the Leslie Buck case and to demonstrate that the field in general lacks standards.

As the murder trial of Charles F. Buck continued in New London Superior Court, the attorneys questioned Deborah Messina, the retired director of the state forensic laboratory and former protege of renowned bloodstain expert Henry C. Lee.

Bloodstain analysis, Messina explained, is the study of blood as it is subjected to different physical forces, or physics, and it makes different types of patterns.

"It has to do with velocities, angles, mathematics," she testified. Messina said the state criminalist's proficiency is tested yearly and that all of their work is reviewed by at least one colleague.

Messina, Lee and Elaine M. Pagliaro examined and re-examined bloodstains on the clothing that Leslie Buck was wearing when her body was discovered at the bottom of a staircase at her Mystic home. Police allege that Buck clubbed his wife in the head, causing her to die on May 4, 2002. The bloodstain team opined that the source of the blood on her clothing came from above and that she was in motion at some point after receiving a head injury. They did not determine if the death scene was "staged."

The case has baffled investigators from the beginning. Although Stonington police suspected that Buck killed his wife because he was infatuated with a younger woman, the medical examiner never changed her opinion that the manner of Mrs. Buck's death, whom they said died from a head injury, could not be determined.

Lee and other investigators went to the Masons Island Road home in August 2002 to reconstruct the scene of Mrs. Buck's death. They found no evidence of blood on or around the staircase, and a curtain they seized tested negative for human DNA.

The uncertainty of the Buck case was obvious in a report that Seeley produced from a 2007 meeting between Lee and investigators. Messina was at the meeting, she said just as a "note-taker," but she did not dispute the contents of the report.

"You would agree that this case, at least from a forensic aspect, was a puzzle?" Seeley asked. "Correct," Messina responded.

"And there's not one thing in this case that is clear-cut?" Seeley said. "Correct," Messina responded.

Messina, now an adjunct faculty member at the University of Connecticut, worked for the lab for more than 28 years, starting in 1981 as a criminalist. She worked in and supervised the analysis of gunshot residue, DNA and body fluids, bloodstain patterns and explosives. She belonged to professional associations and taught and lectured widely.

Seeley produced a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences that called for major reforms in the forensic sciences and criticized bloodstain pattern analysis as lacking in standards and protocols.

Friends of Leslie Buck who have faithfully attended the court proceedings left early Tuesday to attend services for the late Mrs. Buck's mother, Catherine C. Edmonston. The 98-year-old Edmonston, who had been living with her son, Richard in Massachusetts, died Friday.

k.florin@theday.com

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