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1984 murder suspect's widow files claim

12-18-2014 California:

Complaint contends police wrongly accused SDPD criminalist in Torrey Pines Beach slaying

SAN DIEGO — The widow of a retired San Diego police criminalist suspected in the 1984 mutilation murder of a teenager has filed a claim against the city, accusing detectives of investigative misconduct that she says eventually pushed her husband to suicide.

Kevin Brown, a 20-year veteran of the crime lab, became a suspect in the cold-case slaying of 14-year-old Claire Hough late last year, after a retesting of evidence in the case detected a small amount of his semen on a vaginal swab, police said. Investigators spent months trying to build their case against Brown, including searching his home, questioning him and administering a lie-detector test. Police said they were close to arresting him when he hanged himself from a tree in October.

At a news conference Thursday, Rebecca Brown said the police investigation wrongly focused on her husband and completely disregarded the logical explanation of cross-contamination as a reason why his DNA was found on the evidence.

“He was not a rapist and a killer. He was a quiet, good man who devoted his life to … helping people out by putting away bad guys doing his job,” Brown said. “… My husband didn’t do these things.”

The claim, filed Wednesday, states that it was common practice at the San Diego police lab in the early 1980s for criminalists to bring in their own blood and semen samples for testing, and for those test swabs to be air-dried and uncapped on lab tables.

Police say Brown never handled any evidence in the original homicide investigation. But attorney Eugene Iredale, who is representing Brown's widow, said Brown's lab station was next to where Claire's DNA would have been tested — which he said were circumstances that, when considered together, create a high possibility of cross-contamination.

Police officials have said that they have ruled out any possibility of contamination.

Police referred questions about Brown's claim to the City Attorney's Office, which declined to respond Thursday to the allegations, saying it was pending litigation. A claim is the first step to filing a lawsuit against the city.

Because Brown was never arrested, charged or put on trial, much of the evidence in the case has not been made public. That will likely change with a lawsuit, which could require police to divulge their investigative files as discovery.

“This case is not primarily about money,” Iredale said. “It’s primarily about trying to vindicate the reputation of a man who’s dead and whose mouth has been stopped by death.”

The claim accuses police of contributing to Brown's suicide by questioning witnesses in a “suggestive and improper manner” and causing Brown such anxiety that “he became obsessed with the fear that he would be falsely accused and imprisoned pending trial.” Gretchen von Helms, an attorney who was representing Brown during the investigation, said at the news conference that police were aware of his stuttering speech, mental health problems and growing frailty during the probe but ignored them.

The claim also accuses police of obtaining an unduly broad search warrant and seizing numerous items from the Browns’ Chula Vista home that had nothing to do with a murder investigation, items such as a cookbook, a prayer book and a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

“Our belief system in the U.S. government and the legal system seemed to be shattered there for a time, and I’m hoping the legal system will set things right,” Brown's widow said.

Claire's murder shocked the region, not only for its brutality but because another girl, 15-year-old Barbara Nantais, had been killed in nearly the same way on the same beach five years earlier.

Claire's body was found on Torrey Pines State Beach, where she’d been strangled and beaten. Her throat was sliced and her left breast cut off.

For years investigators suspected the murders were related. Last year, when evidence was retested, Brown was not the only DNA profile uncovered in Claire’s case. Investigators found blood from Ronald Tatro on blood from Claire’s clothing and in the zipper of her jeans.

Tatro was a violent criminal who had been convicted of kidnapping and rape in Arkansas in 1974 and for kidnapping a girl in La Mesa in 1985. But prosecuting him for Claire’s slaying was not possible, as he’d drowned in a boating accident in Tennessee in 2011.

Police have not disclosed any ties between Brown and Tatro. Search warrant affidavits unsealed in the case don’t appear to show a firm link between the men, only suggest that the two may have socialized in the same circles. At the time, Tatro was known to hire prostitutes, while Brown participated in a photography club that often worked with nude models, who were often strippers, police said.

In the search warrants, investigators pointed to other actions by Brown that they believed were incriminating, including polygraph results that indicated deception and statements made to friends and detectives.

Police said Brown apparently told one friend in a phone conversation that the girl he’d photographed on the beach turned up dead. And, when a detective stated Brown probably didn’t know Claire was so young, he reportedly replied, “I had no idea,” according to the search warrant affidavit.

His attorney, von Helms, said there is no way to know the context of those statements listed in the affidavit and that they never had the chance to be challenged in court. She also disputes the comment to his friend was ever made.

As far as the first killing goes, no evidence was found linking it to either Tatro or Brown and it remains unsolved. ..Source.. by Kristina Davis

Former Criminalist Kevin Brown Commits Suicide As Police Link Him To Girl's 1984 Murder: Cops

San Diego police looked for the killer of a 14-year-old girl for three decades. Little did they know that a key suspect worked among them for almost 20 of those years.

The body of Claire Hough was found strangled and mutilated in Torrey Pines State Park in 1984. Kevin Brown, a civilian criminalist in the San Diego Police Department's crime lab, was already two years into a career there that would end in 2002.

Years after the trail for Hough's killer had dried up, detectives in 2012 ran a DNA test that they say implicated Brown and another man, according to XETV.

Authorities were preparing to arrest Brown, but they missed their chance as the 62-year-old apparently committed suicide. His body was found Tuesday.

Brown's widow, however, denied that her husband was a killer. Rebecca Brown believes police contaminated the evidence and only matched her late husband because he worked in the lab, according to statements she made to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

She said police harassed Brown until he took his life.

"They pushed him over the edge," Rebecca Brown said.

Police said that Brown never handled any of the evidence related to Hough's murder.

The other suspect, Ronald Tatro, died in a boating accident in Tennessee before detectives cracked open the case. ..Source.. by Michael McLaughlin

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