Forensic expert: Teen’s prints found on evidence

Argen Duncan

Thirteen-year-old murder suspect DeAngelo Montoya handled items from the victim’s house, and the bullets and casings found near her body matched the gun found in an alley trash receptacle, experts testified Wednesday during the second day of Montoya’s trial.

Montoya is charged with shooting 21-year-old Angel Vale to death in her yard July 22, 2010, and with burglarizing her house in the 1200 block of North Avenue A.

Prosecutors have said Montoya took a .22-caliber rifle and other items from Vale’s house, shot her when she stumbled across him with the gun in her yard and then disposed of the weapon and other items in nearby trash containers.

Forensic scientist and ballistics expert Steve E. Guerra with the state Department of Public Safety crime laboratory in Santa Fe said he tested the rifle, bullets and casings that multiple Portales Police officers testified were found at the scene.

Guerra said he compared test rounds he fired from the rifle to the bullets and casings police sent. He looked for unique marks left from their movement inside the gun.

The casings and bullets police found were fired from the rifle, he said.

Fingerprint expert Bonnie Knoll, a supervising forensic scientist at the state crime lab, said she tested numerous casings, the rifle, two beer cans, a Smirnoff vodka bottle, three .22-caliber ammunition boxes, a DVD case with two DVDs and two plastic cups stuck together for fingerprints. Then she compared what usable prints she found with ink prints taken from Montoya, Vale and Vale’s fiance and roommate, Edward Lucero.

Knoll said she found three usable prints on the plastic holding cartridges inside an ammunition box containing 41 of its 50 cartridges.

“We can say with 100 percent certainty that these three fingerprints were left behind by DeAngelo Montoya,” she said.

Knoll also testified that she found Montoya’s prints with the DVDs and plastic cups.

Police found the DVDs in an alley trash receptacle on the block, and Lucero identified them as belonging to him and Vale. Officers found the plastic cups in a shed behind Vale’s house.

Also, Knoll said she found a fingerprint on the rifle, but it wasn’t in sufficient condition to identify who left it. However, she said it was clear enough to determine the fingerprint pattern type, which could eliminate or include people as possible owners of the print.

The print didn’t belong to Vale, but could be Montoya’s or Lucero’s, Knoll said.

In cross-examination, defense attorney Fred Reese asked Knoll if she was aware that some scientists disagreed with fingerprint analysis.

“I’m not aware of any scientists who disagree. I’m aware (of it) with attorneys,” she responded.

Reese questioned whether fingerprints are really proven to be unique to an individual.

Knoll said it’s biologically impossible for two people’s fingerprints to be identical because their development in a fetus is determined by the movement of the mother, baby and fluids, which will never be the same. She also said studies of at least thousands of people have shown no two fingerprints to be the same.

When Reese questioned the accuracy of fingerprint analysis, Knoll said it’s 100 percent accurate.

Other testimonies included:

• Novice Lowman, Vale’s friend, co-worker and neighbor on Avenue A.

When Deputy District Attorney Donna Mowrer said if she’d experienced anything unusual at her house on Avenue A, Lowman said she found pastries in a plastic bag on her door and a green candy container with a note that said “You are sexy.” The note was on wide-ruled notebook paper, and the handwriting appeared to be a child’s, she said.

Lowman said she saw Montoya outside often and he would knock on her door and talk to her.

“He was everywhere,” she said.

The boy played in the alley and the yards behind several houses on the street, including Vale’s, Lowman said.

• Maria Rainsdon, Vale’s neighbor on Avenue A.

Rainsdon said the only unusual thing she noticed in her home was that she and her boyfriend would leave the bedroom door shut and return to find it open and the dog on the bed. The door couldn’t be just pushed open, she said.

Rainsdon also said she often saw Montoya around the neighborhood, alone or with his dog except for one occasion when he was with a friend his age. She said her dog made him nervous, so he didn’t approach it but didn’t move away from it.

• Randy Chavez, handyman working two houses down from Vale’s residence when she was killed.

Chavez said he heard three bangs around 4 p.m. that day.

“I thought they were Black Cats, fireworks,” he said.

However, Chavez, who has been around weapons for 35 or 40 years, said now he thinks the bangs sounded like muffled fire from a .22 rifle.

A minute or less after the bangs, Chavez said, Montoya ran around the south side of his own house and slowed to a walk when he saw Chavez.

Chavez said he didn’t see the boy again that day. However, after a look at a transcript of his interview with police to refresh his memory, he said Montoya was walking around looking nervous later.