By Rose French
The Associated Press
NASHVILLE - Testing again has failed to find DNA from a man who spent more than two decades on Tennessee's death row on evidence that will be used to retry him for a woman's murder, a lab report shows.
The results dated last week and released by defense lawyers Tuesday confirm that blue jeans worn by suspect Paul House have two blood stains from the victim, Carolyn Muncey.
But the tests did not find any of House's DNA in the blood stains. And DNA from one of the stains is a combination of Muncey's and an unknown male, according to a lab analysis by Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings in North Carolina.
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Paul House appeared in a Chattanooga federal court last September when U.S. District Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice ruled the state would be allowed to retry him in the slaying of Carolyn Muncey. The U.S. Supreme Court already had ruled that "no reasonable juror" would have lacked reasonable doubt had he known about problems with the evidence during the first trial and returned the case to the Chattanooga federal district court. The defense continues to appeal the retrial and a hearing is scheduled April 30 in a federal appeals court in Cincinnati.
Previous expert testimony had raised questions about the stains, saying they came from vials of Muncey's blood collected after she died.
The jeans test is the latest report showing the absence of House's DNA on physical evidence the prosecution was looking to use in his retrial, which is set for June 1.
The case against House has been in doubt for years because of DNA testing, which wasn't available 23 years ago when he was convicted of killing Muncey.
House, 47, who uses a wheelchair because he developed multiple sclerosis in prison, was released last year after the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in 2006 no reasonable juror would have found him guilty based on DNA tests of semen stains on Muncey's clothing. Authorities had claimed he lured Muncey from her home, beat her, killed her and then dumped her body in a culvert. There were no witnesses.
The court also said House's lawyers offered new witnesses who provided "substantial evidence pointing to a different suspect" - Muncey's husband, Hubert.
DNA from Hubert Muncey - who has denied involvement in the crime and said he believes House is guilty - has not been found on any of the evidence either.
New FBI tests have examined blood from under Carolyn Muncey's fingernails and cigarette butts found near her body and determined the DNA doesn't belong to House or the victim but to an unidentified third party.
A test by a private lab last year also showed a hair found in the victim's hand does not match House's, the victim's or her husband's DNA.
In fact, different sources of DNA were found on each of the four key pieces of evidence, according to House's federal public defender, Stephen Kissinger.
Prosecutor Paul Phillips, who intends to retry House but won't seek the death penalty, said Tuesday that the evidence suggests there may have been other people involved in the crime as well as House. Or, in the case of the jeans, for example, that the DNA could belong to someone who may have handled the evidence during the investigation.
At the time Muncey's autopsy was done and evidence was collected in the case, it was not routine to wear gloves, Phillips noted.
In addition to the older evidence collected from the crime, Phillips said he plans to present new evidence in the retrial, though he declined to say specifically what that is.
"At any time we have a reasonable doubt as to his guilt, we would not go forward" with a retrial, Phillips said. "There is some evidence in the case, which is new which is not lab evidence, which I cannot discuss.
Dr. Cleland Blake, the assistant chief medical examiner for Tennessee, raised doubts about House's jeans, which were evidence in the first trial, when he testified in 1999 the blood on the jeans came from vials taken during Muncey's autopsy.
House's lawyers have said the blood could have gotten on the jeans while the evidence was packaged together for shipping to the FBI lab or because someone tampered with the evidence.
Kissinger, who wants the courts to stop Phillips from retrying House, is scheduled to go before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on April 30 to ask the court to bar House's retrial.
"We believe the new testing results confirm what we've been arguing," Kissinger said. "The fact that there is DNA on Mr. House's jeans that came from a person who is not Mr. House is just more proof that the jeans were not properly handled and they were contaminated."