Defendant in 1986 Chisholm killing not entitled to DNA database details, judge rules
A company hired by police formed a "hypothesis" that Michael Carbo was the killer, but it was law enforcement that conducted the necessary work to make an arrest, the judge wrote in denying access to materials sought by a defense attorney.
A private company that helped crack a 1986 Chisholm homicide is not required to give the defendant more detailed reports on its investigation and tactics, a judge ruled.
Michael Allan Carbo Jr., 53, has for several months sought additional information from Parabon NanoLabs, which analyzed a decades-old DNA sample and helped investigators identify Carbo as a suspect in the rape and beating death of 38-year-old Nancy Daugherty.
Carbo was charged in July with intentional second-degree murder, but his case has been stalled in State District Court in large part due to the dispute over files belonging to Parabon, which had never before been utilized by police to solve a cold case in Minnesota.
Judge Robert Friday, who recently assumed the case upon the retirement of Judge Mark Starr, found that there has not been any violation of the rules governing the disclosure of evidence to criminal defendants.
"It is necessary for the defendant to show how the information requested would be useful to his case as it relates to guilt or innocence," Friday wrote in a 12-page order dated May 20. "Simply stating the information is relevant without a showing of why it is relevant is insufficient to compel discovery and amounts to the proverbial 'fishing expedition.'"
Daugherty, a mother of two, was found dead inside her Chisholm home on July 16, 1986. She had been sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled, with police indicating there were signs of struggle both inside and outside the residence.
Daugherty's body was found in her bed, according to the complaint. Officers canvassed the neighborhood, speaking with two girls who reported hearing a struggle around 3:30 a.m., including a "call for help, screams and arguing."
Periodic case reviews occurred over the years, and it was in late 2019 and early 2020 that the Chisholm Police Department contracted with Parabon for assistance.
The company was provided a sample of the suspect's DNA and asked to conduct genetic phenotyping — the identification of potential physical characteristics of the individual — as well as genetic genealogy, which involves identifying potential relatives and building family trees through commercially available genetic databases.
According to court documents, Parabon found several potential matches in databases and developed extensive family trees based on the DNA sample, developing what the company called a "hypothesis" that Carbo was the source. Chisholm police and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension then began pursuing him as a suspect.
Authorities seized Carbo's garbage, obtaining a DNA sample that was said to match that found at the 1986 crime scene. They also obtained a warrant and received a direct sample from Carbo, confirming the findings, before arresting him.
Although he did receive some reports on Parabon's investigation, defense attorney J.D. Schmid contended that he was entitled to receive a slew of additional information, including standard operating procedures, case notes, communications, documentation of database searches, and personal details and family trees of other people identified as potential matches for the DNA.
A Parabon representative said that the requested information was proprietary.
St. Louis County prosecutor Karl Sundquist maintained that his office has complied with discovery requirements, turning over all reports in its possession, and said that the defense's additional requests were irrelevant.
But Judge Friday sided with Sundquist, who argued that Parabon had merely served as a "lead," like any other source that provides a tip.
"Ultimately, law enforcement acted on Parabon's findings, but Parabon's findings themselves did not lead to the arrest of the defendant," Friday wrote, citing the subsequent DNA samples obtained from Carbo. "It was the general information of the reports themselves that drove law enforcement to investigate defendant further, not the detailed information of how Parabon created the report."
While concluding that he had authority to compel information from Parabon, Friday said the defense failed to show how it would be useful to the case. The judge did not weigh in on the company's proprietary information claims, but he did raise concerns about identifying other people whose names surfaced in the search.
"This raises significant privacy concerns for other individuals who were not pursued in the investigation and should not be subject to the scrutiny of a murder trial without defendant providing a reason for requiring their names and addresses," Friday wrote.
Carbo is scheduled to be back in court on June 17.