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DNA expert: Blood a match

Published January 20. 2012 05:01PM

A state police expert in DNA examination, testifying at the trial of a Lansford man charged with killing his estranged wife, said Thursday that blood stains found in the basement of the suspect's home matches DNA of his missing wife.

Lisa Shutfufski, of the Bethlehem laboratory of the state police and a forensic specialist, said she examined certain blood stains sent to her by investigators and compared it with other items believed to be that of the missing woman. She said the DNA matched.

Ernest Troy Freeby, 36, is charged in the death of his estranged wife, Edwina Atieno Onyango, 34. He is accused of killing her in the basement of his home at 207 W. Bertsch St., and disposing of the body. The body has never been found.

In earlier testimony, the Carbon County jury panel was told that suspected blood stains were found in several areas of the basement during a search on Jan. 17, 2008. Onyango was reported missing on Dec. 10, 2007, by family members. She was last seen on Dec. 9, 2007.

Testimony indicated she went to Freeby's home on that date.

Shutfufski told the panel she examined the blood stains and compared them to two toothbrushes police said belonged to Onyango and also a hat found in a bedroom of an apartment in Allentown she shared with another woman. She said the DNA from the blood and that from one toothbrush and the hat matched as coming from the same person.

The blood stains were found on the steps leading from the first floor to the basement, on the floor just outside the coal bin and in the coal bin, on the floor and on a piece of two-by-four wood.

Trooper called

State police Cpl. Thomas McAndrew, one of the lead investigators in the case who had testified briefly earlier in the week, was called back to the stand by District Attorney Gary F. Dobias.

McAndrew said he interviewed Freeby initially on Dec. 27, 2007, when state police took over the investigation from Lansford police. He said at that time it was still a missing person case.

At that interview, McAndrew asked Freeby questions about a credit card issued to Onyango. At the time, Freeby said he knew of a Capital One card she had but he did not have access to it, and never saw it.

McAndrew also said Freeby told him on Dec. 9, 2007, the day Onyango disappeared, that she was at his home about 12:30 p.m. He said she left a Dodge Neon she was driving with him and left with another woman. He could only say the other woman was black, tall and husky.

McAndrew said the investigation continued and he arranged to interview Freeby on Jan. 14, 2008, at the state police barracks in Lehighton. One of the purposes of the interview was over the credit card.

He said he asked Freeby about his marriage to Onyango. Prior testimony indicated the two married in March 2001 in Allentown. Freeby later returned to Lansford and began a relationship with another woman, which resulted in the births of two children.

McAndrew said Freeby told him the marriage was one of convenience. He needed help with an issue concerning the office of children and youth while Onyango needed a husband to apply for a green card to stay in the U.S. He said Freeby told him he never loved Onyango and still doesn't.

McAndrew said he then questioned Freeby about the Capital One credit card. He said the investigation revealed the card had been used on several occasions after Onyango went missing.

He said Freeby admitted lying to him about the card and admitted he had it and used it.

The trooper then testified that he received a call from Freeby on March 20, 2008, stating he had received correspondence from Onyango which would prove she was still alive. McAndrew said Freeby called because he was upset about items troopers took from his home on Jan. 14 and wanted see if he could get them back, especially a computer.

Envelopes important

McAndrew told Freeby that the envelopes the letters came in were very important to the investigation because they could be traced back to where they were mailed from and could also provide DNA samples.

McAndrew said he agreed to return Freeby's computer the next day. He also said he told Freeby when a trooper came to his home with the computer he should give him the envelopes.

McAndrew said a trooper did take the computer to Freeby's home but the defendant would not give him the envelopes.

When he called Freeby and asked him why he would not give up the envelopes, he said the defendant told him he would decide later if he would give them up.

McAndrew said hair found in the coal bin was checked for DNA by the state police laboratory but it could not find any. He was told a further test was needed but the state police was not equipped to do it.

He said he reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which had the type of equipment needed for such testing. The FBI referred him to a state police barracks in New Jersey which the FBI uses for such testing.

After receiving the results from that test facility, he sent the results to the University of North Texas, which has a unit specializing in such DNA analysis.

The head of that unit is expected to testify at the trial.

Under cross examination by defense attorney Paul Levy, McAndrew said the investigation revealed that Onyango had three credit cards, including the Capital One. He also said the probe revealed Onyango used the Social Security number of another woman she was living with to get the credit cards.

McAndrew said Freeby told him that Onyango used different Social Security numbers.

He also said Freeby claimed he felt Onyango had run a credit card scam and a bank scam to get money. McAndrew said investigators did not find any evidence that that had occurred.

He said Freeby also told investigators that Onyango had left in the past - for Canada - and later returned, not telling anyone about it. McAndrew, however, said that alleged incident occurred many years prior to 2007.

McAndrew also said that hair found during the Jan. 14, 2007, search was animal hair not human. However, hair found during a second search in the coal bin was human hair.

McAndrew also denied that there was ever any animal blood found in the basement of the home.

President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II recessed the trial about 4:30 p.m. with the jury told to return at 9 a.m. today. The trial began with jury selection on Jan. 9. So far the commonwealth has called about 30 witnesses.

The trial will continue into next week and there's a real possibility it will go into a fourth week.

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