Topic:
GENETIC RESEARCH; MURDER; EVIDENCE;
Location:
EVIDENCE;

OLR Research Report


The Connecticut General Assembly

OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH




February 24, 1994 94-R-0306

TO:

FROM: Lawrence K. Furbish, Assistant Director

RE: Masseuse Murder Case Involving DNA Evidence

You asked for information about an article that appeared in the Hartford Courant on July 30, 1992 concerning the discovery of a body in Monroe of a masseuse who had been missing and presumed murdered since 1988. The information in this report comes from newspaper articles about the case, except for that portion which deals with Judge Gormley's decision on the admissibility of DNA evidence.

In 1988 Tevfik Sivri made an appointment with Andre's Massage of Lyme for a masseuse to give him a massage at his home in Trumbull. On April 18 Carla Almeida came to Sivri's home shortly after 3:30 p.m. As was her custom, she verified his identity from his photo license and called her office in New Haven to confirm her arrival. She was never seen again. It was also her practice to call her office when she finished with a client and she never made this call. She failed to pick up her live-in boyfriend from work or her one-year old son from day care. Her van was later found abandoned in Bridgeport. The massage parlor reported her missing at 6 p.m.

The police went to Sivri's house where he lived with his mother; she refused to allow them to enter. When Sivri returned at around 7 p.m., he confirmed that Carla had been there but said she had left at 3:30. He refused to answer any more questions. Police obtained a warrant and searched the house three days later. They found that someone had lost a considerable amount of blood on the floor of the living room, but the area had been scrubbed with detergent. When police searched Sivri's car they found blood stains in the trunk. Apparently there was also a bullet hole in the trunk. Sivri had abandoned his car and fled the country. It is not clear from the articles we found when he returned and was arrested but he was.

Sivri's trial took place in Bridgeport Superior Court in January of 1992. The prosecutor was Jonathan Benedict, the defense attorney was John R. Gulash Jr., and the judge was Joseph Gormley Jr.. Sivri was charged with murder and the most significant thing about the case was the absence of a body. The blood from the living room floor was so diluted from the scrubbing that it was not possible to obtain any DNA for analysis. Dried blood scrapings were taken from the trunk of Sivri's car and, using DNA, these samples were matched against blood samples from Thomas Almeida, the victim's father and Evelyn Matias, the victim's mother. Two scientists from Cellmark Diagnostics, Inc. in Germantown, Maryland, one of three laboratories in the United States doing DNA testing, concluded that the blood scrapings came from a child of Almeida and Matias. Assistant State's Attorney Benedict had announced his intention to introduce the DNA evidence and defense attorney Gulash had announced his attention to oppose it.

Judge Gormley proceeded to have what is known as a “Frye hearing” which is the test for admitting novel scientific evidence. This test is three pronged and, according to Judge Gormley, for the evidence to be admitted it must be established by a fair preponderance of the evidence that: (1) there is general acceptance in the scientific community of the theory underlying DNA identification and that the theory is capable of producing reliable results; (2) the techniques and experiments used by Cellmark are capable of producing reliable results in DNA identification and are generally accepted in the scientific community; and (3) the laboratory testing is accurately performed or the lab accurately performs the accepted scientific techniques in analyzing the forensic sample, thereby obtaining sufficiently reliable results within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.

The state presented four witnesses: Dr. Robin Cotton, lab manager of Cellmark, Dr Kenneth Kidd, a Yale professor with a doctorate in Genetics, Dr. Henry Lee, chief criminologist at the Connecticut Crime Lab, and Dr. Lisa Foreman, a population geneticist at Cellmark with a doctorate in genetics. The defense presented one expert, Dr. Lawrence Mueller, an associate professor at the University of California, at Irvine, with a PhD in Ecology who has written extensively and testified often on DNA cases.

Judge Gormley issued his decision on the admissibility of the DNA evidence on January 6, 1992 orally in court from a memorandum he had prepared ahead of time. This portion of the transcript has been typed as a bench memo and we have attached a copy.

Judge Gormley made a distinction between the case in hand and the other DNA cases that have been reported in other jurisdictions because in this case the comparison is between an unknown crime scene sample and people who have a biological relationship with the alleged victim, whereas in most cases the comparison is a direct one between samples taken from the alleged perpetrator or victim and crime scene evidence. According to Gormley, this makes a difference in some of the statistical assumptions underlying the analysis.

Judge Gormley concludes that the defense raised no real challenge to the theory, techniques, and methodology followed by Cellmark in performing the physical portions of the DNA analysis, the so-called “bench work.” He found that the state had met its burden of establishing all three prongs of this portion of the test. The main thrust of the defense attacks on the evidence had to do with Cellmark's use of population frequency statistics to reach a conclusion. Cellmark had concluded that a biological match existed between the blood samples in the trunk and those of Almeida and Matias, and they had further concluded that the chances of this match being due to chance was one in 1,400 in the case of Evelyn Matias and one in 26,000 in the case of Thomas Almeida. The state's experts emphasized that these statistical frequencies are only estimates and are not intended to necessarily reflect accurate figures. They are included in the analysis “only to give some significance to the rareness or commonality of the existence of band matches.” The defense argued that the data base used to make these calculations (a caucasian data base derived from a Red Cross blood bank in Wilmington, Delaware) was too small and not sufficiently random. The state relied heavily on the testimony of Dr. Kidd, the Yale population geneticist, and Dr. Foreman, a Cellmark population geneticist, to dispute the defense allegation. Judge Gormley found the testimony of Dr. Kidd and Dr. Foreman more credible and reasonable and “standing on sounder scientific foundation than that offered by the defense.” He therefore found that the methods used by Cellmark in determining statistical frequency to be generally accepted in the scientific community and to meet the Frye criteria for admissibility. Thus the DNA test results were entered.

During the trial defense attorney Gulash argued that there was no way to prove that Sivri intended to kill Almeida and he asked Judge Gormley to instruct the jury that they could find Sivri guilty of a lesser offense such as manslaughter. Gormley declined and the jury had to choose between murder or no conviction at all. After deliberating for seven hours on Tuesday January 21, 1992 the jury found Sivri guilty of murder. The conviction has been appealed and is currently before the Connecticut Supreme Court. It is in the briefing stage and oral argument has not yet been scheduled.

The article you provided reported that a resident of Monroe had found a skeleton in a wooded area of his property in July 1992 and it had been identified as Carla Almeida. An autopsy showed that she had been shot in the head. Prosecutor Benedict had argued that Almeida had been killed with a shot which had left a bullet hole in the trunk of Sivri's car.

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