Published: Saturday, February 17, 2007
Mother-daughter murder draws attention from BBC
Using DNA evidence in criminal cases will be around for a while, one scientist predicted.
By ED RUNYAN
WARREN The 2004 murders of Wanda Rollyson and her daughter, Rebecca Cliburn, in Rollyson's Newton Township home led to a trial full of psychological, legal and scientific twists.
It's no wonder the case captured the interest of readers from outside the Mahoning Valley a short time after a 130-pound, 25-year-old Youngstown drug dealer named Jermaine McKinney was arrested and charged with the crimes.
Now the case has attracted the interest of the British Broadcasting Corp. of London, which spent parts of two days in the Valley this week filming a short documentary to be aired on BBC sometime between May and September of this year.
Detective Sgt. Peter Pizzulo of the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department, the lead detective in the case, said he and County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins accompanied the crew to McKelvey Lake in Youngstown and Rollyson's home Thursday.
The crew interviewed Melissa Barry of Cortland, daughter and granddaughter of the victims, while at Rollyson's home. They also discussed the case with Watkins and forensic scientist Brenda Gerardi of the Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation's Richfield office. They finished their day at the county courthouse, where McKinney's trial took place last fall.
A jury convicted McKinney of both murders, and he was sentenced to life in prison without eligibility for parole.
Tried to hide evidence
Gerardi said the documentary's focus appeared to be McKinney's attempt to cover up the crimes by burning the bodies of his victims and the house where the crimes were committed.
Gerardi said the interviewer went into detail asking about the evidence McKinney did leave behind, such as a pair of bloody boots discovered on the ice-covered lake a short time after the murders and the cigarette butt smoked by McKinney that investigators found in Rollyson's basement.
Gerardi said it appears the BBC was interested in the "CSI effect" that the case demonstrated: That some criminals try to cover their tracks in ways they learned by watching television shows dealing with forensic evidence.
McKinney, however, failed to hide all the evidence.
"Sometimes [criminals] leave evidence behind such as hair and other things without realizing it," Gerardi said.
Witnesses testified that McKinney tossed his bloody boots over a bridge onto the lake on the night of the murders. The lake was frozen, though, and the boots remained on the surface.
The boots contained not only the blood of Rollyson and Cliburn, but also skin-cell DNA on the inside that belonged to McKinney, Gerardi testified at the trial.
"It's hard to deny having bloody boots with both victims' DNA on them," she said.
Finding the boots before they fell through the ice was very fortunate, Gerardi added.
"Had the lake not been frozen, we would have had a difficult time" proving the case to a jury, she said.
Gerardi said convictions using DNA may become even more common in the coming years because authorities only recently completed processing DNA samples they received after Ohio passed a law requiring all felons to provide a DNA sample.
Those samples are being analyzed in Virginia using a nationwide database that matches felons' DNA with DNA from crime scenes.
One of the first cases of this type prosecuted in Trumbull County involved Ernest L. Averiett III, who was convicted on rape, kidnapping and other charges in 2005 and sentenced to 44 years in prison.
A more recent case was brought against former Cortland man William Gunther, who was indicted this month on murder and rape charges in the 1994 shooting death of Priscilla Code of Warren.