Dis­pute boasts con­flict­ing the­o­ries about DNA

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - LOCAL - By Andy Reid Staff writer

Seth Adams’ DNA was likely part of a sam­ple found on the neck of an un­der­cover of­fi­cer he’s ac­cused of chok­ing be­fore be­ing shot in 2012, ju­rors learned Mon­day.

But it’s not pos­si­ble to say whether the DNA came from skin left by an at­tempted chok­ing, blood from a gun­shot wound or even saliva from the re­ported scream­ing that oc­curred dur­ing the fa­tal en­counter, Sher­iff ’s Of­fice foren­sic sci­en­tist Tara Sessa tes­ti­fied Mon­day.

There is only a 1 in 5 bil­lion chance that the DNA found on Palm Beach County Sher­iff ’s Sgt. Michael Custer’s neck was left by some­one other than Adams or a close rel­a­tive, Sessa tes­ti­fied.

Some­body else’s DNA — in ad­di­tion to Custer’s and not match­ing Adams’— was found on the front of the of­fi­cer’s jeans and his belt, Sessa said.

Adams’ fam­ily is in court seek­ing mil­lions in an ex­ces­sive force and wrong­ful death fed­eral law­suit against the Sher­iff’s Of­fice and Custer over the shoot­ing five years ago in a Lox­a­hatchee Groves nurs­ery where Adams lived and worked.

Where DNA was — and wasn’t— found is part of the dis­pute over the fa­tal latenight en­counter that oc­curred af­ter Adams, 24, found the un­der­cover of­fi­cer parked at the nurs­ery in an un­marked Ford Ex­plorer.

Custer has said he iden­ti­fied him­self as an un­der­cover of­fi­cer and that Adams, who had been drink­ing, screamed at him and choked him. Custer said he broke away and soon af­ter fired four shots be­cause he feared Adams was reach­ing into the truck for a weapon. No weapon was found.

The Adams’ fam­ily at­tor­neys are ar­gu­ing that ev­i­dence found that night — May 16 — re­futes Custer’s ac­count of what prompted the shoot­ing.

They say lack of blood in­side the truck door or in­side the truck cab, as well as a blood trail, a smashed bul­let and bul­let cas­ings found be­hind the truck show Adams couldn’t have been shot when he was be­side the truck’s cab.

Custer says he tried to pull Adams from the truck be­fore fir­ing, but Adams’s DNA wasn’t found on the of­fi­cer’s arm, Adams fam­ily at­tor­ney Wal­lace McCall told ju­rors. He has also em­pha­sized that therewere no scratches or bruises seen on Custer’s neck, de­spite the “in­con­clu­sive” DNA sam­ple fromthe neck.

“The phys­i­cal ev­i­dence con­tra­dicts Sgt. Custer’s ver­sion of why he killed Seth Adams,” McCall told ju­rors soon af­ter the trial started on Feb. 13.

At­tor­ney Sum­mer Bar­ranco, who rep­re­sents Custer and the Sher­iff’s Of­fice, has cited the DNA found on Custer’s neck as one of the rea­sons ju­rors should be­lieve his ac­count of the en­counter.

“He was con­cerned that Seth Adamswas go­ing back to his truck to get a weapon,” Bar­ranco told ju­rors.

At­tor­neys for Adams’ fam­ily have ques­tioned how the Sher­iff’s Of­fice han­dled the DNA test­ing, rais­ing con­cerns about why some things such as Adams’ hands, his clothes and the in­te­rior of his truck were not tested.

They have ques­tioned the ob­jec­tiv­ity of the Sher­iff ’s Of­fice han­dling the test­ing for one of its own of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ings in­stead of us­ing an out­side agency.

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