2017 murder victim was found with hair tie in his hand, now prosecutors want hair samples from defendants
A Whitley Circuit Judge approved a request Thursday morning for hair samples to be taken from a suspect in a triple homicide for comparison purposes to a hair tie found at the crime scene in the hand of a dead child.
Darnel Chivers, 39, Anthony Hester, 34, and Jeremy Hatfield, 35, who are all from Indiana, are charged with three counts of murder in the strangulation deaths of Robert Mack “Little Man” Kennedy III, who had just turned 16 years old; his mother, Emogene Ormae Bittner, 36; and her husband and Kennedy’s stepfather, Christopher Michael Bittner, 24, who were all found dead on Sept. 13, 2017, at a 1602 Deep Branch Road residence.
The killings are believed to have taken place on Sept 11 or 12, 2017, and drug involvement is suspected as a partial motive in the case, Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird said previously.
Chivers, who is acting as his own attorney, was in Whitley Circuit Court Thursday morning where prosecutors argued in favor of a motion to have hair samples taken from him, by force if necessary.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronnie Bowling filed a motion on Oct. 24 for the production of a hair sample from the defendants for the purpose of comparing the hair samples with evidence gathered from the crime scene.
“Various items of evidence were collected following the commission of the alleged crimes, including a hair tie found in the hand of a brutally murdered minor child,” Bowling wrote in a motion. “The testing lab now requires hair samples to match the hair samples found on evidence from the scene of the crime.”
Bowling added in one of the motions that the hairs had been determined to be human in nature, and needed to be tested for mitochondrial DNA and/or hair analysis matching.
The testing requires 25-pulled hairs and 25-combed hairs recovered from various areas of the scalp and pubic region of each defendant. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Forensic Laboratory will do the testing.
Chivers objected to the request noting that he had just received the motion requesting hair samples from prosecutors a few days ago, and that he hadn’t had a chance to file a response to that motion yet.
Chivers also made a reference to where the hair in question was found.
This prompted Bowling to reply that he had never mentioned where the hair had been found.
(Where Chivers noted the hair was found couldn’t be heard from this reporter’s vantage point in the courtroom.)
Winchester noted that he had previously ruled that a DNA sample via a mouth swab or a blood sample could be collected from the defendant for testing purposes, and unless Chivers had something new along those lines, he saw no need to prolong ruling on Bowling’s motion for hair samples.
“This has possible exculpatory value for you Mr. Chivers,” Winchester added.
(Dictionary.com defines exculpatory as “tending to clear from a charge of fault or guilt.”)
Also during the hearing, Chivers argued in favor of a motion he had filed for the indictment to be dismissed in this case.
His argument ranged from a failure to properly serve him with the indictment to his constitutional rights being violated by a court order authorizing authorities to use “excessive force” to collect the previous DNA sample from him.
Bowling vigorously objected to claims that “excessive force” was used to get the DNA sample.
“I will flat out deny excessive force was used during the taking of his DNA,” Bowling said adding that he would be more than happy to hold an evidentiary hearing regarding that allegation, and provide witnesses.
Winchester noted that the court’s previous order didn’t authorize excessive force but rather force as necessary to obtain the DNA sample.
Although the DNA court order in question allowed for a mouth swab or blood to be drawn by force, if necessary, Chivers allowed the DNA sample to be taken via the oral swab without any force being used, Bird said.
In regards to Chivers claims that he wasn’t properly served with the indictment, Bowling noted that Chivers was formally arraigned in circuit court, which involved presenting him with a copy of the indictment at that time.
Winchester gave Chivers 30 days to file additional arguments to Bowling’s response to his motion to dismiss the indictment.
Winchester granted a motion Thursday by Chivers regarding a request for copies of hearings regarding his case noting that the circuit clerk’s office could burn copies of those hearings onto a DVD for Chivers.
Chivers had also requested copies of transcripts from hearings in his cases, but it was noted that Kentucky doesn’t routinely do transcripts from court hearings.
Chivers co-defendant, Anthony Hester, was also scheduled for a hearing Thursday in Whitley Circuit Court, but was not transported to court.
Bowling noted that the U.S. Marshal’s Office didn’t approve a writ, which had been submitted, to have Hester transported to court, but they did approve a writ to have Chivers transported to court.
Both are currently in federal custody.
“We need to get him (Hester) here at some point,” Winchester noted.
Hester’s attorney, Cotha Hudson, said that her understanding is that Hester’s federal court sentence is almost complete.
This would clear the way for Hester to be transferred to a local detention center for incarceration pending his murder trial in Whitley County.
Bowling also presented Chivers and Hester’s attorneys with copies of discovery evidence in the case, and said he would also be sending copies of nearly one terabyte of evidence and information electronically.
Law enforcement removed metal staples, paper clips and so forth from the paper discovery evidence before it was passed along to Chivers.
Winchester scheduled another pretrial conference day in Hester and Chivers’ cases for Feb. 26 at 10 a.m.
Chivers, Hester and Hatfield are also charged with first-degree burglary and tampering with physical evidence. Hatfield also faces charges of receiving stolen property-firearm and possession of a handgun by a convicted felon in connection with the Whitley County case.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Chivers and Hester, but not against Hatfield, who has cooperated with investigators.
Hatfield wasn’t scheduled to appear in court Thursday.