Stories about Jeff Pyne’s case This afternoon, three scientific witnesses and a cell phone expert testified in the trial of 22-year old Jeffrey Pyne. Pyne is a college student accused of murdering his mentally ill mother Ruth Pyne, who had previously been violent towards Jeffrey and his younger sister Julia.
Jeffrey continues to maintain his innocence, and his family, friends and community support him.
Forensic technicians testify
Prosecutor Skrzynski began the afternoon by calling up Michelle Yon, who is a forensic technician from Pennsylvania.
Skrzynski talked to Yon about her background and about the standard operating procedures in the lab where she works. She explained that every piece of evidence is documented.
Skrzynski and Yon then discussed Yon’s duties, which include DNA extraction, PCR amplification, and sequencing. She explained these duties in detail, and stated that her work is checked at every step. Doctor Melton analyzes the data after the technicians complete their work.
On July of 2012, Yon received an envelope from Oakland County. Inside were two bottles labeled “Hair from victim’s hand to hand samples,” and “One vial of blood for typing.”
Prosecutor Skrzynski then called up Bonnie Higgins, another technician who works with Yon. She also performs DNA extractions.
Higgins testified that recently, she was asked by her supervisor to separate out the 42 hair samples of Ruth Pyne which were sent to the lab. They took four select samples of this hair to extract, amplify and sequence the DNA. Higgins was able to wash the blood off from the hairs in order to properly test the hairs.
Doctor testifies about hair
Dr. Terry Melton, laboratory director at Penn State, testified next. She supervises the technicians Yon and Higgins at Penn State. Over the years, her laboratory has handled thousands of samples for mitochondrial DNA testing.
Dr. Melton presented an overhead explaining that scientists use mitochondrial DNA testing when looking at some kinds of samples, especially hairs, as they are difficult to test for nuclear DNA.
She also stated that mitochondrial DNA is passed on from an individual’s mother, so the DNA in Jeff Pyne’s hair would match the DNA in Ruth Pyne’s hair.
The doctor determined that the four hairs tested had the same mitochondrial profile as Ruth Pyne. This means that the hairs could have come from Ruth or from one of her maternal relatives, including Jeffrey. When comparing this to the FBI and European databases, this mitochondrial profile was determined to be very rare.
Cross-examination of Dr. Melton
Champion confirmed with Dr. Melton that the hairs she tested could be those of either Ruth or Jeffrey Pyne. He asked if the length of the hairs would mean that the hairs belonged to Ruth since Jeff has very little hair. Dr. Melton replied that she was not aware of the length of Jeff’s hair at the time of the murder.
Dr. Melton explained that all of Ruth Pyne’s siblings, mother and children would share the same mitochondrial DNA. Her sisters would pass this DNA on to their children, but her brothers would not.
Dr. Melton also confirmed that this mitochondrial report was performed on evidence received from the sheriff in July of 2012. She has no record of hairs from Ruth Pyne’s head. She only knows that she tested hair from her hands.
The prosecutor spent $20,000 total for these four hairs to be tested, including flying in the technicians and the doctor.
Computer and cell phone detective Jerry Derosia testifies
The next witness called by Prosecutor Skrzynski was Jerry Derosia, a certified forensic computer examiner.
On May 28th, Derosia received four cell phones to examine. Three phones belonged to Bernie, Ruth, and Jeff, and the fourth phone was a business phone belonging to Bernie Pyne.
Extracting data from cell phones is a hit and miss process that involves reverse engineering. This expert used reverse engineering to obtain contacts from the Pynes’ phones. He was also able to obtain call logs, which is a very difficult thing for a non-expert to do.
The calls from the logs are listed below:
Jeff’s phone shows missed calls on May 27, including a missed call from Dad Bernie at 3:18 and two missed calls from Diane Needham between 3:30 and 4:00.
Dialed calls from Jeff’s phone included one to Dad Bernie at 3:18 and one to Diane Needham at 2:41 pm.
There was also a text in Jeff’s inbox from “Woody Bretti” asking “what’s wrong?”
The “received calls” portion of Jeff’s cell phone was empty, which the detective said that he found to be unusual.
Dialed calls from Bernie Pyne’s cell phone included a call to Jeffrey at 2:45 and 3:18 pm on the day of the murder. There were also dialed calls to Gail Pyne at 2:59 and Joe Campo at 2:57.
Bernie Pyne’s cell phone included one call received from Jeffrey at 3:18 and one call received from “Olivia” at 11:42.
Received calls from Ruth Pyne’s cell phone include one from Bernie at 10:38 on the day of the murder. She also had two calls received on May 26: one from Jeff and one from Bernie.
Champion cross-examined Derosia and asked him if it was really that unusual for someone to have an empty box in their “received” box. Derosia stated that he thought it was.
To read all the stories about this case, please see the Index of stories about Jeff Pyne’s case.