Forensic evidence back in the spotlight at Garcia murder trial

Published: Oct. 7, 2016 at 7:47 AM CDT
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Forensic evidence was back in the spotlight Friday at the Anthony Garcia murder trial.

Garcia is accused of four murders: Thomas Hunter and Shirlee Sherman in 2008 and Roger and Mary Brumback in 2013.

Murder Victims

The state began by calling Officer Nick Herfordt to the stand. He works with the Omaha Police Department's Homicide Unit, specifically dealing with digital forensics and he told the court he has been involved with approximately 1,500 cell phone forensic examinations.

In this case, he examined a phone and an iPad belonging to Dr. Roger Brumback. He has documents relating to data on Dr. Brumback's phone during the final 10 days of activity. That covered a period from May 5 to May 14, 2013.

Herfordt said he found, "typical work content," on the phone along with family texts and photographs.

As prosecutors queried Herfordt about the final communications involving Dr. Brumback's phone, the defense brought a flurry of objections eventually overruled by the judge.

The prosecutor showed the phone's call log to the jury - the final entries all in red indicating missed calls.

Defense Attorney Robert Motta Jr. asked Herfordt why he didn't bring a longer list of the call log. He asked if he knew he'd be testifying today. The prosecution objected to the "form of the question."

Motta asked, "Did you find Mary Brumback's phone?"

Herfordt: "No."

Motta: "Are you saying she did not have a phone?"

Herfordt: "Yes."

Motta asked if he had analyzed the Brumbacks' computers. Herfordt said the last time he saw any activity on any of the digital devices was on the iPad.

Herfordt was excused and the state called Owen Brumback, the son of Dr. and Mary Brumback, who told the court his parents had lived in Omaha for 12 years. He said he would call his parents once a week and sometimes spoke to his mother once a day. The calls were made on a landline.

Owen said his last contact was on Mother's Day, May 12, during a Facetime video chat. He said he got no answer from two phone calls after that.

Another child of the Brumbacks, Audrey Brumback, then took the stand. She said her mother had decided to retire when her father took his job in Omaha. Audrey said she was in regular contact with her mother on a landline. She said her last contact was Mother's Day, 2013.

The defense did not cross-examine.

Tim Grady, a Security Services General Manager for ADT took the stand as Deputy County Attorney Sean Lynch took over for the State.

The prosecutor then turned the questioning to the part of the case involving Dr. Chhandra Bewtra reviewing Bewtra's contract with ADT.

Grady said a burglar alarm call came in from Dr. Bewtra's home on May 12, 2013. Grady was excused.

Dr. Againdra Kumar Bewtra, husband of Dr. Chhandra Bewtra and an employee of Creighton University School of Medicine, then took the stand.

The prosecution's Sean Lynch showed pictures of the Bewtra home to the jury and asked the witness, "Do you recall that day?"

Dr. A. Bewtra: "Yes."

Lynch: "Do you recall what you did that day?"

Bewtra: "We had taken close friends out for lunch for Mother's Day - 1 p.m. reservation."

Lynch: "Did you receive a phone call that day?"

Bewtra: "Yes. Had a call from ADT about a burglary alarm."

Lynch: "What did they relay to you?"

Bewtra: "That a burglar alarm had been triggered, should they call police?"

Lynch: "Did you let them call police?"

Bewtra: "No, because we were on our way home."

Lynch: "What did you do when you got home?"

Bewtra: "Did a sweep around the house, did not notice anything out of place, went inside."

Lynch: "Did you call police?"

Bewtra: "No."

Lynch: "Why not?"

Bewtra: "Thought someone was trying to get in fast, they didn't so no big deal."

He then said after learning of the Brumback deaths and discussing the break-in with his bosses and his students he reported it to police.

Lynch asked Bewtra if Dr. Hunter, Dr. Brumback and his wife were considered senior members of the pathology department and Bewtra said yes.

On cross-examination, Jeremy Jorgenson asked if there have been repeated problems with doors in the Bewtra home that did not involve break-ins. Bewtra said yes. He confirmed that a particual door pops open easily. A recliner and sofa sit in front of it and Bewtra confirmed the furniture would need to be moved to get through the door.

Jorgenson asked if it were possible that when the recliner was pushed back, it was not firmly against the door. "Not a chance," Bewtra said.

There was also more questioning about temperature - a recurring line of inquiry for the defense. Jorgenson also asked if it had rained between Mother's Day and the time the Crime Lab arrived. Bewtra said, "I don't recall."

Dr. Bewtra was excused.

The state then called Omaha Police Officer Oscar Dieguez with the Homicide Unit, who went to interview Dr. Againdra Bewtra after police were notified of the possible break-in at their home. Lynch asked the officer if had touched the door knobs. Dieguez said no. Why? "I was still looking and determining, came to the conclusion that there is no way the wind could open that door." Dieguez said he then called the OPD Crime Lab to come to the scene. "I actually pushed on the door to see how much force it would take to open."

Jorgenson asked how much pressure Dieguez put on the door. "When the rear legs came up and it locked up, I stopped."

Dieguez was excused and the state called Rachael Larson, an OPD Crime Lab technician, who went to the Bewtra home to photograph and take a swab of the back door. She said she took nine photographs.

Lynch asked, "Did you take a swab of one door knob or both?" Larson answered, "One swab was used to swab both the left and the right knob."

Jorgenson asked if she used the same swab to do both door handles? Larson said yes.

Jorgenson: "It is not protocol to use the same swab for both handles?

Larson: "It ultimately depends on what the detective wants done."

Larson was excused and Judge Gary Randall said court was adjourned for the day.

Next week, the prosecution plans to call witnesses to give testimony concerning Garcia's time at Creighton that might shed light on the motive behind the murders. Earlier this week, the prosecution said it was revenge for Garcia’s dismissal from his residency at CUMC.

Refresh this page or follow WOWT's Erin Murray on Twitter at @emurray1 for #GarciaTrial updates

Facetime Screenshot
Photo of a Facetime screenshot from 5/12/13 introduced to establish some of the last communication with the Brumbacks.