SHELBY A Gaston County Police officer on Tuesday told a jury how he got DNA evidence from Donald Borders, charged with the 2003 rape and murder of 79-year-old Margaret Tessneer.
Tessneer was one of three elderly women found dead in their beds, with doors unlocked and phone lines cut or yanked out. Authorities said DNA evidence linked Borders to the scene of Tessneers death.
Testifying Tuesday in Cleveland County Superior Court, officer James Brienza said he was asked by SBI agent John Kisser on May 13, 2009, to serve a warrant on Borders for assault on a female and to obtain a DNA sample if possible, using a drink can or some other means.
On May 15, working a night shift, Brienza went to a residence on Doc Wehunt Road in Cherryville between midnight and 2 a.m. He knocked on the door and Borders mother answered.
She allowed me to come in, Brienza said. Borders was in bed asleep.
After waking Borders, Brienza allowed him to get dressed. Meanwhile, he noticed a pack of cigarettes on a nightstand and felt this was a good opportunity to take advantage of possible DNA gathering.
Handcuffed in front, Borders walked outside with Brienza, who asked if he wanted to smoke before leaving. Borders accepted the offer and took a few drags from a cigarette. Brienza then asked if Borders would let him discard the cigarette; Borders said yes.
Wearing latex gloves, Brienza took the cigarette from Borders mouth, extinguished it on the ground, slipped the butt in a plastic bag and sealed it.
Cross-examined by Borders lawyer, David Teddy, Brienza testified that he was the only law enforcement officer present when the warrant was served and the DNA evidence was obtained. Also, Brienza said he did not read Borders his Miranda rights.
Borders was charged with Tessneers death in 2009.
In other testimony Tuesday, retired N. C. Chief Medical Examiner John Butts described how he became involved with the case. In December 2003, he consulted with regional pathologist Dr. Steven Tracy, who had performed the autopsy.
Butts said he didnt feel death resulted from natural causes.
But there wasnt sufficient evidence to name a definitive cause. Butts said he agreed with Tracys assessment and listed the cause of death as undetermined.
In late 2009, Butts learned that a rape kit had found sperm in Tessneers vagina, and following a conversation with Cleveland County District Attorney Bill Young, Butts prepared a report on the case that hed always considered suspicious.
Butts said Tuesday that in his opinion Tessneers death was a homicide, most likely caused by asphyxiation.
Butts said Tessneer had no advanced disease process, no signs of stroke or significant underlying medical history.
A toxicology analysis detected pain medication but not in excessive quantity, he said. Putting it all together, Butts said that in his opinion Tessneer died from external forces or causes at the hands of another individual.
The trial resumes Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.