Jury hears from possible alibi witness, medical examiner, DNA expert in John Clayton Owens capital murder trial

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HUNTSVILLE,  Ala.  (WHNT) -- The third day of John Clayton Owens’ capital murder trial included prosecutors challenging the credibility of one their own witnesses, numerous autopsy photos being shown to the jury and a lengthy discussion of why Owens’ DNA was not found at the crime scene.

Owens is facing a possible death sentence in the strangulation death of his 91-year-old next-door neighbor, Doris Richardson, on Bide-a-wee Drive in August 2011.

After his arrest, Owens reluctantly admitted to a police investigator that he’d been in Richardson’s house and stole two pistols, but he insisted that it had happened about a week before she was killed.

He has denied killing Richardson.

The man he gave the guns to, his longtime friend Jimmy Justice, was called to testify this morning.

Justice said he got the guns from Owens about two or three days before he bought ammunition for them from Walmart.  He said he brought them home, but his wife complained about having guns in the house with their small children, so he eventually took them to his mother’s.

But Madison County Assistant District Attorney Tim Gann challenged that account, pointing to a written statement from 2011 where Justice said he got the guns from Owens on a Thursday or Friday. Richardson’s body was found on Friday, Aug. 26.

Justice said his memory was hazy during that period because he was working seven days a week, but he maintained the story that he’d gotten the guns a few days before he bought the ammunition, which receipts show was on Aug. 26.

Gann pressed Justice on the account, and the attorneys argued before the judge, with the jury in recess, about the government trying to impeach its own witness.

Justice denied he paid Owens for the guns, a .38 pistol and a 1911 Remington .45 pistol. He said they agreed to exchange the guns for future tattoos Justice would give Owens.

The jury also heard about two hours of testimony today from Lillie Harper, a section chief in the biology lab for the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences. She discussed DNA and the challenges of picking up DNA sufficient for testing from various surfaces.

Harper described testing Richardson’s nightgown, hairs from the scene, a pillow case and a sexual assault kit for DNA, but she only found Richardson’s DNA. She was also asked to test swabs from a barbecue fork that may have been used to pry open Richardson’s back door, a flashlight from the scene and the handle of the safe that had been found open after Richardson was killed.

Harper said none of the items returned a DNA reading. Gann asked if it was still possible that Owens DNA was present in the house, but for various reasons, wasn’t found. She agreed it was possible.

The defense has pointed out investigators found neither Owens’ fingerprints nor his DNA in Richardson’s home.

Dr. Valerie Green, a medical examiner from the Department of Forensic Sciences, testified about performing an autopsy on Richardson. Her testimony included a number of photos from the autopsy, projected on a large TV screen in the courtroom.

Green said Richardson died as a result of being manually strangled. She suffered broken cartilage and a broken bone in her neck, and her neck had abrasions on both sides.

Richardson also had bruises on her arms. Gann asked if it was possible the bruises were due to her hitting her attacker, trying to ward him off.

Green said that was possible.

Under cross-examination Green said she couldn’t say with any certainty how Richardson’s arms were bruised.

The day ended with Huntsville Police Department Charlie Gray beginning his testimony.

The trial will resume Tuesday, after the holiday.

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