The Benefits of Forensic Testing – Cold Case Solved After DNA Testing Points to Killer
April 5, 2022 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes Social Share
After almost 30 years, the victim of cold case is finally getting justice – all thanks to a beer can. The 1990 murder of Lou Beauregard, 68, was closed after lack of evidence and issues involving a psychic in trying to solve the case years ago.
However, after North Palm Beach police department organized a cold case team in 2018, the case was reopened, and the investigation progressed. As a result of their work, Mark Steven Gribbin, 57, was convicted of the 1990 murder.
When the case was first investigated, the only clues were a few hand-written notes in a calendar, along with a bloody towel and a beer can. Police struggled to pin down a conviction the first time around, and, in their desperation for answers, sought out the assistance of a psychic. However, with the strength of new DNA testing, authorities—and the jury—believe it was Gribbins’ can of beer, which he drank immediately after the murder.
A review of the case, along with its initial issues and the role new advances in DNA technology can play in a criminal case, will all be covered.
The 1990 Murder Case
Leo Beauregard, 68, was killed on June 29, 1990. Beauregard’s body was discovered by police in a chair in his house, with a deep, 7-inch stab wound to his neck. An investigation of the scene revealed blood covering the table near the chair, as well as a beer can of Busch Beer on the table with no blood on it.
The police report also noted that there were hand-written notes found in the house with multiple dates written on them. One of the notes had the date June 26th with the text “Mark birthday”. Another had “Mark, Phoenix House 179-237,” which included a Michigan address.
Upon investigation, Gribbin claimed that although he had spent some time in West Palm Beach in the late 1980s, he did not know Beauregard, or had ever visited his home. Yet the notes around the house indicated that might not be the case, since both Gribbin’s birthday and inmate number from a previous stint in prison were found on the notes around Beauregard’s house.
The case had gone cold and wasn’t reopened until 2018 when North Palm Beach police department created a cold-case squad. Questions revolved around the original investigator’s use of a psychic, since sufficient DNA testing was not a viable option at the time.
Where Police Went Wrong Before – Psychic Testing
Gribbin’s public defender from Palm Beach County argued that the North Palm Beach police investigators didn’t have the proper knowledge of processing DNA evidence during the initial investigation in 1990.
In fact, the department decided to seek the help of a psychic in 1992, where they sent the beer can and blood-stained towel which was found at the scene. Courtney Wilson, the Assistant Public Defender, claims that the evidence records where not maintained properly.
A video was shown at the trial, with the psychic from 1992, Noreen Reineer, handling the evidence without any gloves. There was no written record of how the items were returned to the police department in North Palm Beach. There was also no record of where the evidence was being kept prior to the re-examination of the case in 2010.
The defense argued that the evidence was improperly handled during the first investigation, however, the DNA found on the beer can when it was tested in 2019 pointed to Gribbin as a match. There was no clear motive for the killer, except that the two clearly knew each other despite Gribbins denying the fact.
The jury only took about 3 hours on Tuesday, March 29th, 2022 to hand down their verdict. Mark Gribbins was convicted of first-degree murder based on the DNA testing of the Busch beer can which was announced to be a probable match to Gribbin.
Circuit Judge Daliah Weiss claimed that the DNA evidence found on the can was “extremely compelling evidence” and sentenced Gribbin to life in prison.
DNA Forensic Testing
This case not only highlights the benefits of cold-case units reinvestigating old cases, but also the benefit of forensic DNA testing. As technology has seen a huge advancement in the last 20 years, many criminal cases have been able to finally get solved with the help of forensic DNA testing.
According to the Department of Justice, since its creation of the Convicted Offender DNA Backlog Reduction Program, there have been over 493,600 samples from offenders in 24 states that have been analyzed. There have been funds provided to help analyze around 24,800 cases with the 2001 No Suspect Casework DNA Backlog Reduction Program. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that with the help of technological advances with DNA labs, there was a 73% increase in casework and 135% increase in casework backlogs getting completed.
Just as DNA testing helped convict the defendant in this particular case, DNA testing can also help in defending against a charge. Using proper DNA testing in cold cases or cases that may have been ‘solved’ without sufficient evidence allow such cases to be reinvestigated. This can lead to solving the cold case or potentially exonerating the defendant who was originally convicted.
Stuart Kaplan, former FBI agent and now defense attorney, spoke of DNA testing in cold cases: “It’s a tremendous accomplishment for local law enforcement. Now with the advancement of technology, they’re able to now extract even the smallest of a DNA that may have been left behind.”
To read more about DNA testing and post-conviction motions, visit our blog here.
Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida
If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, the first thing you should prioritize is seeking out an experienced Florida Criminal defense attorney. Dealing with DNA evidence requires a solid defense team who understands the ins and outs of forensic science, and who can work closely with expert witnesses. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients all across the state of Florida. They are prepared to stand in your corner and fight for your freedom. Call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today for a free consultation.
Written by Karissa Key