SANTA ANA — A forensic expert testified Wednesday that Anaheim police bungled key ballistics evidence during their investigation of Paul M. Crowder, who is accused of fatally shooting a high school basketball star at her post-prom party in Anaheim.
Lawrence L. Baggett, a Long Beach consultant testifying for the defense, said that the markings on the bullet that killed 17-year-old Berlyn Cosman of La Crescenta in Los Angeles County were not consistent with a police investigator's conclusion about the trajectory of the gunshot.
The defense argues that Cosman was accidentally shot in the head when Crowder tripped as he entered her darkened Anaheim hotel room with a .357 magnum in his hand.
Prosecutors allege that Crowder, a 19-year-old high school dropout, killed the Crescenta Valley High School student because he was angry that she and another girl did not let him sleep in their suite.
On Wednesday, Baggett said the tripping scenario was consistent with his investigation into the ballistics evidence. He said, however, that his conclusions, as well as the police findings, could only be imprecise guesses because investigators threw away the mattress through which the fatal bullet passed.
The mattress was important, Baggett said, to determine the actual trajectory of the bullet.
The bullet's trajectory has become a crucial issue for the defense, which is trying to prove that Crowder held the gun at waist level when he tripped inside the room, as opposed to the prosecution's contention that he held the gun higher and aimed it at Cosman's head.
"I would want to collect and preserve everything related to (the shooting) . . . the bed clothing, sheets, the mattress. As a matter of fact I'd take the entire bed," said Baggett, criticizing the police investigation.
Earlier in the day, Anaheim Police Detective Jim Conley testified that police kept a part of the mattress but discarded the rest because it wasn't "practical" to store the whole mattress in an already overcrowded evidence room.
Baggett testified that after reviewing the markings on the bullet, part of the mattress covering retained by police and photos of the crime scene, he estimated that the gun was pointed at a 10-degree downward angle to the bed, instead of the police finding of 20 degrees, which is closer to eye level.
But Baggett appeared to get flustered under intense cross-examination by the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher J. Evans.
Evans asked Baggett if his scenario was also consistent with "someone putting the gun down low and whacking off a shot?"
"Yes," Baggett answered.
"It's as consistent with a trip as an intentional murder, isn't it, Mr. Baggett?" asked Evans.
". . . Yes, that could be consistent," Baggett admitted.
The trial is scheduled to resume today.