Week 1 of Whitehawk murder trial wraps with testimony on forensic DNA samples

·3 min read
The body of Keesha Bitternose, 29, was found at this home in the 1500 block of Cameron Street in January 2020. (CBC - image credit)
The body of Keesha Bitternose, 29, was found at this home in the 1500 block of Cameron Street in January 2020. (CBC - image credit)

Keesha Bitternose's father isn't certain he'll ever find justice in the court proceedings around his daughter's death — but he's hoping for closure.

The 29-year-old Regina mother's body was found at a home on Cameron Street in January 2020.

Two people have already been convicted of manslaughter in her death.

Dillon Whitehawk, the third and final person to be tried in court in connection with her death, is charged with first-degree murder and is halfway through his judge-only trial at Court of King's Bench in Regina. He's pleaded not guilty.

Arlen Bitternose, the woman's father, says it's been a difficult nearly three years in and out of courtrooms.

"We've always kept a close-knit family, but it has even brought us closer," he told CBC News outside of court on Friday.

"Maybe someday — maybe — I'll forgive them. But right now? I just can't. I feel that with what they have done and what they put my daughter through, any justice will never be good enough."

Earlier this week, the forensic pathologist who performed Bitternose's autopsy said she had too many injuries from being beaten, stabbed and possibly shot to determine her exact cause of death. She ultimately died of a collapsed lung and severe blood loss, the doctor said.

Bitternose's mother believes she was tortured.

Her family says they knew she was involved in gangs, but she was preparing to leave that lifestyle and return to university to finish her social work degree.

Jessie Anton/CBC
Jessie Anton/CBC

Glove seized linked to Whitehawk: expert testimony

On Friday, the court heard from two Crown expert witnesses who took DNA samples from items collected by Regina police investigators at the crime scene.

Meagan Clarke, a reporting scientist at the RCMP forensic laboratory in Edmonton, testified about the two reports she wrote from her analysis.

The reports outlined how a handful of items — including a glove, machete, screwdriver and Bitternose's fingernail clippings — were tested for DNA.

There was no human DNA that was familiar on the screwdriver, Clarke told the court.

It's "highly indicative" that blood was detected on the machete, but she couldn't confirm that because the test came back "inconclusive."

"It could have been blood, but there are a few other materials that could also give you that positive result," she told Crown prosecutor Adam Breker.

Submitted by Lynea George
Submitted by Lynea George

However, the glove — which Clarke was asked by investigators to reexamine — had traces of Bitternose and "at least one male contributor."

Thomas Hynes, Whitehawk's defence lawyer, questioned Clarke's language in her conclusion.

"That's to say there's a minimum threshold of at least two different sources, but there could be more so you can't exclude that possibility?" Hynes asked.

"Correct," Clarke responded.

Name withheld/Facebook
Name withheld/Facebook

Gregory Litzenberger, the technical operations leader at the RCMP's forensic laboratory in Edmonton, also compiled three reports on his analysis of the exhibits.

The scientist concluded his samples of the glove in question came into contact with at least three other males, but he traced it back to two known suspect profiles in particular — including that of "Male A," or Whitehawk's, that made up 85 per cent of the DNA on it.

Litzenberger told the court he confirmed this by cross-referencing a DNA database, which found no matches out of more than 29,000 samples. However, all of the accused's paternal male relatives could not be excluded because they have the same genetics, he noted.

The trial is scheduled to resume on Monday morning.