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Judge: DNA evidence presented at Aberdeen man’s 2019 murder trial admissible under new Maryland standards

A Harford County judge ruled last week that forensic evidence presented by a state police DNA expert during the 2019 murder trial of an Aberdeen man was valid, effectively denying him a new trial.

Joseph Daniel Parrish has been seeking a new trial after he was convicted by a jury in October 2019 on charges of first-degree murder, witness retaliation and use of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Parrish was found guilty of shooting and killing a 61-year-old Jeffrey Coudon in at his Havre de Grace home. Coudon had been slated to testify against Parrish in a robbery case prior to the November 2018 shooting.

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Harford County Circuit Court Judge Paul W. Ishak ruled Thursday that the DNA evidence tested by Maryland State Police DNA expert Angela Spessard was in line with the state’s new evidentiary and testimonial standards, known as the Daubert standards, that other states use.

The Maryland Court of Appeals narrowly adopted the new standards last August, which a trial judge must use to weigh whether an expert witness’s testimony or methodology is based on scientifically valid reasoning that can properly be applied to the facts at issue and, therefore, admissible, according to the Cornell Law School.

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If the judge had ruled the new standards hadn’t been met, it could have resulted in a new trial for Parrish.

Prosecutor Timothy Doory on Thursday walked Spessard through 10 points of the newer standard. Spessard said that the results of her testing were considered scientifically reliable and that the process relied on standards set by other organizations that were not impacted by the change to the law.

“Using the Daubert standard, would that change any of the opinions you made at trial?” Doory asked.

“No,” Spessard responded.

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Defense attorney Shane Nolan argued that police mishandled the DNA before it got to Spessard, saying that it could have been contaminated by lackadaisical handling. He asked the judge to rule that the new standard was not met.

Spessard attested to the fact that using unclean implements or surfaces can contaminate DNA evidence. Nolan said the police had testified at trial to their careless handling of the evidence.

“[They] had all this DNA comingling in a carboard box for months on end,” Nolan said.

On Nov. 11, 2018, officers from Havre de Grace Police Department responded to the 200 block of North Washington Street for a report of an individual suffering from a laceration, according to the state’s attorney’s office. When they arrived, officers discovered Coudon, was suffering from gunshot wounds.

Coudon was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma in Baltimore, where he died three days later, on Nov. 14.

According to court documents and testimony, Parrish, now 29, had robbed Coudon — who was in a wheelchair — in March of 2018. When Coudon indicated he would testify against him, Parrish shot him twice in his home and “left him to die,” Doory said. Charges were filed in the robbery case, but without a victim, Doory said they were dismissed.

Parrish had threatened Coudon, according to court documents, who bought a taser for protection. After Parrish had been arrested, that “shock-stick” was found in a backpack he directed Robert Lee Zeman III, his half-brother, to dispose of over a jail phone. Also in the bag was a bullet — the same caliber as those that killed Coudon.

Parrish has long maintained that he and Zeman were railroaded and that he was pinned as the culprit without sufficient evidence. He has also said that Doory acted unethically during the prosecution, a claim he repeated at Thursday’s hearing after Ishak’s ruling.

“There is no link between me and the murder weapon,” Parrish said.

Parrish is now is scheduled to be sentenced on June 1.

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