Renell Lettsome on Trial: Day Two

FBI Analysts Match DNA from Geiger Murder Scene to Renell Lettsome

Prosecutors called Federal Bureau of Investigation analysts on Tuesday, August 8, during the second day of Renell Lettsome’s murder trial in V.I. Superior Court before Judge Brenda Hollar.

Lettsome, who faced 12 felony charges ranging from first degree murder to first degree arson, was accused of bludgeoning David Geiger to death and severely beating his teenage son Nathan during the early morning hours of October 29, 2005.

Prosecutors allege Lettsome returned to the scene of the murder and set the house on fire to conceal the crime. He pled not guilty to all counts.

The prosecution first suspected Lettsome based on an affidavit made by his girlfriend, and the mother of his young son, Amber Taylor. Taylor, who is out of the territory, did not testify.

Taylor house-sat for Geiger the week before he was murdered. When he returned home, Geiger realized a large sum of money was missing from his home. Geiger allegedly confronted Taylor about the missing money at her mother’s hand-painted clothing store in front of Lettsome.

Forensic Serology Examiner Testifies
Assistant Attorney General Ernest Bason, the lead prosecutor along with Kelly Evans, called FBI forensic serology examiner Caroline Zervos, an expert in the identification of blood.

V.I. Police Department detective David Monoson sent a number of blood swabbings from the Geiger murder scene to the FBI lab in Virginia, Zervos testified.

The swabbings were from the main entrance of Geiger’s Estate Grunwald home, the southwest balcony railing, the wall in the office, the southeast balcony, a plastic water bottle, a knife, a kettle, a plastic bag and a piece of wood.

The presence of blood was identified on all of the swabbings except the kettle and piece of wood, Zervos explained.

Monoson also sent DNA samples from Lettsome, David and Nathan Geiger and Lettsome’s girlfriend Amber Taylor to the FBI lab.

Expert DNA Examiner Takes Stand
FBI expert forensic DNA examiner Rhonda Craig also testified during the second day of Lettsome’s trial.

Craig testified she examined a swab from a stain in the Geiger home main entrance, a swab from a railing balcony, a swab from the office wall, a swab from the mouth area of a water jug and a swab from the handle of a water jug.

High Probability Places Lettsome at Scene
The FBI expert examiner compared the DNA from the swabs to those of David and Nathan Geiger, Lettsome and Taylor. Although there is no certainty in the calculations, Craig said it was an extremely high probability — one in 280 billion people — that Lettsome’s DNA was at the murder scene.

Lettsome’s DNA was found on the swab from the wall, the balcony railing and the mouth area of the water jug. The swab from the handle of the water jug tested positive as containing Nathan Geiger’s DNA, Craig testified.

Dr. Frank Odlum, General Surgeon and Chief of Surgery at R.L. Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas, who was on call when Nathan Geiger was taken to the emergency room, took the stand and described the teenager’s numerous serious injuries.

Nathan’s Brain Exposed
A breathing tube was placed in Nathan’s windpipe to protect the airway before he was taken into the operating room, Odlum testified.

Odlum explained Nathan suffered numerous lacerations about the head and face, including a depressed facture which exposed his brain and was leaking cerebral spinal fluid — a potentially fatal injury.

A number of photographs showing Nathan’s barely recognizable skull and face were projected in the court room as Odlum explained each laceration. There were no “defensive” lacerations on Nathan’s hands or arms, suggesting he was hit without warning, Odlum explained.

Odlum stapled the back of Nathan’s head closed and stitched a number of other lacerations closed before the patient was readied for air transportation to a Puerto Rican hospital where a neurosurgeon was on call, the doctor testified.

Cerebral Injuries
Dr. Francisco Landron, Chief of Pathology at the Schneider Regional Medical Center, who examined the body of David Geiger on November 2, 2005, testified he died of cranial cerebral injuries due to blunt force trauma.

Landron recounted the numerous fractures and lacerations found on Geiger’s head and face and said Geiger was dead before the fire was set.

Bason called a nurse, who was working at Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center on the morning Nathan was brought in, to testify. She recounted that Nathan was in a lot of pain, was in and out of consciousness and was difficult to understand when he spoke.

Use of Accelerants Suspected
V.I. Fire Department Deputy Chief Brian Chapman testified the fire set at the Geiger’s Estate Grunwald home seemed to be incendiary. It was a “hot, rapid fire” which was isolated in one location, suggesting the use of accelerants, Chapman explained on the stand.

The prosecution rested their case on Tuesday afternoon, after having called a total of 15 witnesses.

Court-appointed defense attorney, Pedro Williams, made a motion to dismiss each of the counts, alleging the government did not present any evidence to corroborate statements which Lettsome made in his signed confessions.

Motion To Dismiss Denied
Lettsome made the confessions to protect Taylor and their child, Williams explained.

The lack of defensive wounds on Nathan, which coincides with Lettsome’s assertion he had the teen “under control” and the fact neighbors and tenants testified to hearing a horn blow, corroborate information in the murder suspect’s confessions, according to Bason.

“I don’t know which trial you are watching,” Hollar told Williams, refusing to dismiss any of the 12 felony charges.

After asking for an afternoon recess, which was also denied, Williams called the first of four character witnesses.

Lettsome Called Peaceful
Tayna Larsen, Lisa Nicewander, Shira Sofer and Lettsome’s mother, Jesse Cheetam, each took the stand and testified Lettsome was an honest and peaceful person.

When called by the defense, Rosemund Dane told the court about a conversation which she had with David Geiger the day before he was killed. Dane and Geiger were friends for 20 years, both having moved to St. John the same year and having children the same age, Dane said on the stand.

Dane knew both Taylor and her mother, she explained. Geiger, who was trying to find out information about the money which went missing while Taylor house-sat for him, asked his old friend for help, Dane testified.

Geiger asked Dane to talk to Taylor and her mother, Dane testified, adding she agreed and planned to talk to the mother and daughter the next morning. Geiger was killed that night and she never talked to Taylor or her mother, Dane explained.

Williams also called Brenda Hendricks, who lived with Tommy Ferrell on the first floor of Geiger’s house, to testify on Tuesday.

Hendricks, when questioned about hearing noises from Geiger’s apartment, testified the statement she made to VIPD officials was different than the one presented in court.

Williams also questioned VIPD Officer Christine Basil who spoke to Nathan at MKSCHC before he was transferred to St. Thomas. The police officer said that Nathan answered “yes” when a doctor at the health center asked him if he had fought with his father.

Under cross examination, the police officer said she was not certain of Nathan’s answer since he was difficult to understand and was in and out of consciousness.

Judge Hollar called a recess until the following morning, to accommodate two defense witnesses who could not be present on Tuesday afternoon.