WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: Crime Lab Link Used More

EXAMINERS MAY TESTIFY VIA VIDEO

Posted: November 9, 2009 at 4:26 a.m.

— A closedcircuit television system linked to the state crime lab is seeing a lot more use in Washington County Circuit Court these days.

In the latest example, prosecutors have asked to allow examiners to testify via closed circuit television at the rape trial of 40-year-old Avery Laray Scott.

Scott is accused of engaging in sexual activity with a female who was too drunk to consent or was unaware sex acts were occurring. The incident happened on the University of Arkansas campus.

The trial is set for Dec. 11 before Washington County Circuit Judge William Storey.

Three examiners are expected to testify, including Sammy Williams, a toxicologist, Heather Farrell, who examines physical evidence, and Mary Simonson, a DNA evidence examiner.

The link allows examiners at the crime lab to testify without leaving their office.

“I’m very pleased with it and I’ve encouraged the prosecutors and defense attorneys to agree to do it,” Storey said. “It allows technicians to spend their time working in the lab rather than driving up and down I-40. It certainly does not adversely effect the testimony of the crime lab technicians and it saves the state a lot of time and money.”

The system was implemented because of the huge amount of travel time involved for evidence examiners testifying around the state. Crime lab officials say employees spend as much as half their time traveling.

It also allows examiners to work on other cases in the lab right up until they are summoned to testify.

“We like to use it whenever we can,” Washington County Prosecuting Attorney John Threet said. “You’re talking about a six-hour minimum drive (from the crime lab in Little Rock to Fayetteville and back). It saves them a lot of time.”

Typically, an examiner will only be on the stand for a short time.

“It lasts 10 to 15 minutes on TV and they go back down the hall to work,” Threet said.

The state is required to give notice they plan to use the system and show that its use will not violate the rights of the defendant guaranteed in the state or federal constitution.

The dedicated system, the first in the state, was originally placed in Storey’s courtroom in 2001 but was not used for the first time until 2002, because cases where its use was planned did not end up going to trial, settled instead when the defendants decided to enter guilty pleas.

The fiber optic line and hardware were purchased using a federal grant but there have been persistent funding problems over the years.

Kermit Channell, executive director of the crime lab, said Washington and Benton counties use the system more than any others that have the equipment and he hopes state budget cuts don’t curtail its use. Channell said he also expects the cost to go down as the required technology gets cheaper.

The Arkansas Legislature in 1999 passed the law allowing crime lab personnel to testify by either closed-circuit or satellite transmitted television in criminal trials, except capital murder or fi rst-degree murder trials.