RNC expert finds no problems with past homicide cases after DNA cross-contamination

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary says a review of homicide cases from the last four years found no issues with the chief medical examiner's work.

Forensics and property director Kathryn Moyse Rodgers was tasked with probing homicide cases from January 2016 to the present. Moyse Rodgers is a forensic scientist and DNA expert who joined the RNC last year.

The police were asked to review the cases in October.

The investigation was sparked after DNA cross-contamination was discovered by the RCMP forensics lab. When DNA from one homicide case was sent for testing, it turned up as a match to a second case. The specifics of those two cases have not been disclosed. 

Steve Bragg was supposed to stand trial for first-degree murder in January, but because of cross-contamination in the unrelated cases, it was delayed indefinitely.

Bragg is accused of killing Victoria Head, 36, and dumping her body near O'Brien Farm, off Mount Scio Road in St. John's.

Gary Locke/CBC

The Crown prosecutors in the case filed a last-minute application to delay the trial, citing the police investigation into the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner..

The prosecutors received a report on Dec. 31, 2019, that "indicates an issue with cross-contamination of DNA samples at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in two unrelated cases."

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's role is to report, investigate and record deaths. The chief medical examiner is responsible for determining the cause and manner of death in homicide cases, and is often called on to testify as an expert witness.

Dr. Nash Denic is Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical examiner, but Dr. Simon Avis was in charge for the majority of the cases that were under review. 

Bragg's case has no direct link to the cross-contamination.

Const. James Cadigan, RNC media relations officer, said the force is "not concerned" that its cases will fall apart because of DNA issues. 

In an interview last week, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons also said the blunder would not affect ongoing prosecutions. 

Cadigan said the RNC does not expect the Bragg case to be delayed much longer. 

However, Crown prosecutor Lisa Stead said no timeline has been determined yet.

"While the incident of cross-contamination involved a completely separate case, the Crown and defence are still assessing any ramifications in the the Bragg matter," Stead said.

"We intend to schedule the trial as soon as possible, but not before the Crown and defence are prepared to proceed."

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