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The Science File

Dead insects tell tales, help convict Californian

A car's splattered bugs indicated his alibi in a mass murder was false.

June 23, 2007|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

Bugs on the radiator and air filter of a rented 2003 Dodge Neon proved to be the downfall of a Bakersfield elementary school vice principal, leading to his conviction last month for the murder of his estranged wife, three children and mother-in-law.

The jury recommended that Vincent Brothers, 45, be sentenced to death for the crimes. A key witness against him was a UC Davis entomologist.

Lynn Kimsey, director of the university's Bohart Museum of Entomology, had never been in a courtroom or had any contact with law enforcement when FBI agents dragged the car parts into her lab in 2003 and asked her to help identify the bug smears on them.

Brothers' family had been found shot and stabbed to death in July of that year. Vincent Brothers said he was visiting his brother in Ohio at the time of the deaths. The blue Neon he had rented had 4,500 miles on it, but Brothers claimed it had never left the state.

Kimsey found otherwise.

She told the court that several insect species that she and entomologist Steve Heydon picked from the parts are found only in the West, and that one was most abundant in California. They included a large grasshopper, a paper wasp and two "true bugs" -- wingless or four-winged insects in the order Hemiptera with mouthparts adapted for piercing and sucking.

True bugs like the ones found on Brothers' rental car are found only in Arizona, Southern California and Utah.

"We found no butterflies," she said. "That indicated to us that the car wasn't driven during the day, but at night."

The defense brought in three entomologists from Purdue University and one from the University of Illinois who argued that the insects could be widely distributed, but the jury didn't buy it.

Kimsey described the experience as "interesting but terrifying."

But she said she was willing to do it again.

"This may open up a whole new path for us," she said.

--

thomas.maugh@latimes.com

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