Game-Changing Murder Trial EvidenceCrime Countdown
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- 8 Feb 2021
It’s the pivotal moment in any court-room drama — when evidence is presented that clinches a case. Ash and Alaina bang the gavel on the most significant pieces of murder trial evidence ever.
There's a reason television shows about lawyers have been around for decades. We loved the drama of the trial scenes. It's all about the gasps will not surprise witness enters the courtroom or when that one piece of evidence puts the killer away for life, what it means is game over for one side or the other. And that's not much different than real life murder trials. Not at all. Murder weapon's testimony or DNA can make or break a case. Today, we're counting down the most pivotal pieces of murder trial evidence ever.
The things from each of these cases changed the game dramatically.
Hailu Weirdo's, welcome to Crime Countdown, a Spotify original from podcast, I'm Ash and Emelina.
Every week will highlight 10 fascinating stories of history's most engaging and unsettling crimes, all picked by the podcast Research Gods.
And this episode, we're counting down the top ten pieces of game changing murder trial evidence.
The first thing that I think about when I saw this was how stubborn I am, how much I like to be right, because I was like, oh, that must feel so good.
You like to be right? Yeah, I can admit that I definitely have a stubborn streak when it comes to proving I'm right.
I don't think anyone's going to argue, to say the least. But the thing is, I'm always right. I knew that was coming. Is it really stubborn or is it just the reality that everyone else says not cut up yet? I say the latter. OK, OK.
Like for that very reason, I like that whole diatribe. That's why I had to come to terms with the fact that I will not always be right very early. Usually quite rarely. In fact, you know, you are very smart. Thank you.
I feel like I would make a good lawyer but really only in the television way.
I like I like to study things, but I really don't want to study laws and rits about like real estate, land and all that. But I would really love the gotcha moment. Yeah, you watch for sure. I get that. I do.
I really love when I'm right about something too, because like nothing feels better than being able to pull up those receipts. Oh yeah. Just like drive your point home. Oh yeah. Because then you get that like ha moment and who doesn't love a ha moment. I love hop but the people that don't love ahat are the people that are wrong.
Very true. Correct. And I'm willing to bet that I would be right if I said there's probably a couple people on this list that were wrong.
Look at that. You're right. Oh my goodness. Well, Elena has five such people and so do I, but neither of us knows who the other person has on their list. Let's start the countdown.
Ten. I'll start us off with our first pieces of evidence at number 10, convicted killer Steven Avery's blood. Steven Avery is the subject of the Netflix docu series Making a Murderer. He was convicted and sentenced for the 2005 killing of Teresa Halbach because his blood was found in the victim's car. But the question raised is whether the blood was planted in order to frame him.
That case. That case will mess you up. It blows your brain.
So in nineteen eighty five, Avery was convicted of sexually assaulting another woman and he served 18 years. That's a lot of years many. Then he was exonerated when DNA in the case matched another man. That makes me so sick. They were like we did you real wrong. Sorry, you spent 18 years in jail for no reason. And in 2003 he was like, you're about to be really sorry because he sued Manitowoc County in Wisconsin for thirty six million dollars.
Wow. Including the police officers involved in his case. He sued them, too.
I mean, who can blame them? I don't blame them. But then they were like, oh, we're going to get you now. Because the game 2005, Avery was arrested and charged with the murder of Teresa Halbach when his blood was found in her car. But it's like was it placed there because like revenge plot, all was going to say because the county was like, we didn't want you to sue us. I mean, thirty six million is a lot.
I know. So the vial of Avery's blood from the previous sexual assault case is the evidence in question. I guess a small hole was found on the lid of the vial. Oh, it's like why would you need a syringe stuck in there while a nurse claimed that she made this hole in that lid, actually.
And then it was a typical way to fill a test tube. OK, but it's like I don't know. And that still gives access to the blood. So does, you know, weird. So the tape on the box that the vial was in was apparently cut and there's blood between the stopper in the glass. And that can only happen if the stopper is taken out. Oh yeah, that makes sense. So it's like, hey, I think we just solved it.
And I'm just saying watch the Netflix thing. Whoa, whoa, whoa.
Nine. At number nine is the south side strangler's DNA evidence, Timothy Spencer, a.k.a. the South Side Strangler, was convicted of the rape and murder of four women in the late 80s around Richmond, Virginia.
It's on the list because it's the first time ever that DNA evidence led to a murder conviction and death sentence in the U.S. who I would say that's game changing, definitely changed the entire game. So DNA evidence was first used in a court case in 1988 in England to convict a double murderer. Wow, that's interesting. It is. In the U.S., genetic testing had been used in a few criminal and paternity cases, but this was the first murder trial to use DNA evidence.
I can't imagine being, like, old enough to because at that point I was like, what, like two and three?
And I can't imagine being old enough to see this happening while life is about to change, like science just totally flipped on its ear and was like, here you go, DNA.
Spenser's trial began in Arlington, Virginia, on July 11th, 1988. He was convicted and sentenced to death just five days later. Wow. The power of DNA evidence, am I right? Who knew you were going to say, am I right? Am I right? Am I right?
I'm right. Don't worry about it. Like we said, I'm right. No, it's three different labs tested and confirmed that the semen found at all the crime scenes was Spencer's and he was sentenced to death.
Good, Spencer. Bye, Spencer, the L.A. Times reported. Scientists said the chance the semen could match someone else was one in, oh, seven hundred and five million.
So, I mean, pretty sure it was Spence.
Pretty good chance that it's him. Spencer was executed in nineteen ninety four. Wow. Eight, number eight on our countdown of game changing murder trial evidence, the latter from the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder case in the 30s, Bruno Hauptmann was found guilty of kidnapping and murdering the young son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh in March of 1932. It was a ladder left at the crime scene that led to the baby's room that sealed Hauptman fate. Some believe that he's innocent.
This case is one of my favorite cases just because it is crazy and is bananas and crazy. So it's so sad.
Some of the other evidence other than just the latter. There was mud on the floor of the nursery of the nursery. That's so creepy. There were footprints under the nursery window. Stop saying nursery. I know.
I mean, they're both like, useless, though. Yeah. So there was no blood or fingerprints found in or around the nursery, which is bonkers and also never find blood in the nursery. No, there were multiple ransom notes asking for more and more money and the cash was tracked. Houtman was caught with marked bills. Oh, well, that's. There you go.
Now the latter dissected in a desperate search for clues. Houtman was a carpenter and tool marks left on it match tools that he owned. But then you think about back then you like how great were we at matching and also how many tools, even where everybody's like, oh, I have like seven of those.
Yeah. One type of wood used to build the ladder was also found in Houseman's attic.
OK, we're adding things up so it looks like we're tallying the marks. Yeah, we're seeing it happen.
So the prosecutor said the ladder broke due to Houseman's weight and carrying the child because it's like weight and then baby weight.
He was carrying a baby. I know that's horrific. A physician testified the baby died of a fractured skull. That's terrible.
Yeah. Let me leave you on the worse note. I possibly get it. Seven. And number seven this week is Thomas Jennings fingerprint's way back in 1910, Jennings shot and killed Clarence Hiller. He fled from Hitler's home and unintentionally landed in the crime history books. Thomas Jennings became the first person in the U.S. ever convicted of murder based on fingerprint evidence.
What a way to end up in the history books.
Is this all science? I love it. It's like they know me. Makes sounds. So Thomas Jennings broke into Clarence Hiller's home to Robert and ended up waking up the whole film naked. Yeah, Hillary fought with Jennings and was shot and killed. Norman Jennings was caught quickly about a half mile away. He was wearing a torn and bloodied coat and, oh, carrying a revolver. They call that a smoking gun.
Very casual. Police took the freshly painted railing. Jennings used to hoist himself out the window as evidence which like smart thing. I know, huh? They claimed it would prove the identity of the burglar. The jury focused on whether prints were repeated, quote, whereas really what we need to know is can people match them accurately?
And the answer is yes, a resounding hussar.
Weeks prior, cases in Britain and published studies were cited to lend credibility to fingerprinting during the appeals and ended up working. His conviction was upheld. Good. The ruling stated, quote, This method of identification is in such general and common use that the courts cannot refuse to take judicial cognizance of it. Huh? So fingerprints, guys, fingerprints. We all got them. We do, I hope. Six also on our evidence list, at number six, the knife from the Amanda Knox murder case.
Amanda Knox was first convicted and then years later exonerated in the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher in 2007. One piece of evidence that was debated most a knife, the prosecution argued, was the murder weapon. This case, this case has a bunker. It's like all of these cases. It's like, oh, this case. Oh, my gosh. So the knife was found in the home of Knox's then boyfriend. And the prosecutors argued it had her DNA on the handle and creatures on the blade, which it's like.
I don't really know how you could mess that up. No, but the experts say they did. They say that's not it. A leading forensics expert in Italy testified the knife would not have made the wounds on Kircher's body. Oh, so that's not the murder weapon. I guess the prosecutors maintain just because the knife doesn't match everything, it doesn't mean it wasn't used. But it's like you could say that about literally everything in the world. Exactly.
Unless anything was the murderer. I feel like that's exactly what it says. Like this doesn't match. No, that's how science works.
But whatever works for you guys. Knox's supporters have said the prosecutor tried to force the evidence to fit his theory of what happened.
And that's exactly what it sounds like to me.
Kercher had never been to Solicitors' apartment and wouldn't have come in contact with the knife, he said. Yet that was her DNA. Hmm. Weird. The defense had experts testify that the amount of DNA on the knife was too small to be definitive. Wow. It's just a lot a lot of info thrown right at you.
I knew Amanda Knox was going to be on here somewhere. I know I'm surprised that she's up so high on the list. I know, but there are some big skeletons come in. I know that there's one thing that's totally going to be on this list.
I hope there's one that I don't have on mind, but it better be on yours or I'm going to yell at the research gods. I don't know and I'm not going to tell you. I think it involves a floppy disk, a floppy disk, floppy disk. I say mine includes winter apparel, oul. What could it be? I don't know. Let's see.
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Five. All right, let's jump back in with number five on our countdown of game changing murder trial. Evidence starting off the second half of our list is David Harris's testimony in the Randall Adams case. Many know the story from the Thin Blue Line documentary. Randall Adams was convicted of the 1976 murder of a police officer. But when filmmakers were making the documentary The Thin Blue Line a few years later, turns out the testimony that put him away and sentenced to death began to unravel and sentenced to death.
That's a big that's a big mistake. Huge. In November 1976, a police officer was shot and killed during a traffic stop. There was an investigation that led to 16 year old David Ray Harris. Now, earlier that night, Harris picked up a stranger who had run out of gas. Randall Adams might sound familiar. The two apparently spent the day together drinking when Harris was accused. He just went and blamed Randall Adams, of course. Were you with him, that guy?
Other witnesses corroborated the testimony. And Randall Adams was convicted in 1977. Adams was sentenced to die by lethal injection before filmmakers uncovered evidence that pointed back then to the 16 year old David Ray Harris. Of course, I knew that was going to happen. Went right on back.
Witnesses had perjured themselves, which. Why did you do that? Why did you do that in a case of life or death? Do not perjure yourself. No, no. It's never worth it. No. Randall Adams statement he signed during an interrogation was misconstrued. And basically everyone lied.
Just liars. How could you go on with your life knowing that you lied and sentenced a man to death? Everyone lied like a liar. Oh, yes. John Mulaney, quote, has to be in there somewhere always.
So the truth did start to get out. Many Texans believed prosecutors didn't go after Harris because he was too young to be executed under Texas law, which makes a lot of sense. You're just going to go with the next best thing. Yeah, they're like he's too young. Let's get this old guy. Let's just kill this guy. After the thin blue line came out in nineteen eighty eight, David Ray Harris recanted his testimony without confessing. In nineteen eighty nine, Randall Adams became a free man.
Oh, thank God. Then skip to 2004, David Ray Harris was actually convicted and executed for another murder. Wow. Karma karma at its finest karma she work in. For landing at number four this week is the floppy disk, yes, that serial killer, Dennis Rader sent to the police thinking that they couldn't trace it.
But down went BTK because of that move, because he's Dennis, the dumbest of all. My goodness.
Now, Dennis Rader began killing, as we all know, in 1974, like terrorizing the Wichita area for decades. He was the worse, the absolute, the worst, worst. But then he just, like, disappeared in the early 90s. We wish he didn't disappear for good because in 2004, the Wichita Eagle newspaper wrote a story about him and they were like, oh, he's probably dead. Or like he ended up in jail, like, screw, that guy is probably dead.
Yeah, exactly. Screw him. And he was like, screw you, Wichita Eagle. And then they were like, don't worry, we'll screw you back. Right. So while he sent a letter to them needing attention, of course, because he's BTK, he's Dennis. And so begins the game play for him with the media for like a year.
Oh, yeah. He loved attention. Now, in early 2005, Rader tells a Wichita TV station that he left a package at a Home Depot and the police found it in the trash. Inside are the plans for some murders. He's so extra. It's so extra. So lame. There was also a note, this is my favorite show in existence, asking if he sent the police a floppy disk, could they trace it? And he also added in there, be honest.
Scout's honor. Be honest, said BTK. He was a scout leader. So he was like, come on, Scout's honor. Oh, so stupid. It's hard to place a classified ad in the paper with the message Wrex. It will be OK if it was safe to send the disk. Now of course they were like, oh yeah, it's going to be OK. I need to know where that came from. Why, Rex. Why?
Because I don't know enough to know where his stupid brain came up with that. I honestly, I would not be shocked if it was just that he really liked the T. Rex. I was going to say that he's just like really into dinosaurs. I think that's what it is. He should have been like brontosaurus. It will be OK. So, of course, they were like, yeah, let's place that a total good Rex. It'll be OK.
February 16th, 2005, the floppy disk arrived at the TV station. Rex knew it would be OK. It's all good. And the police traced it to the Christ Lutheran Church, but they didn't see that coming. No, you were like, why was me? The church's website identified Dennis Rader as the president of the congregation in the world's most iconic twist. They could tell that he signed in and use that like it could be fully traced. I also love that he did that at church, used his full name, used his real name, used his church like I.D., his church computer.
It's the best. It's how much. Chef's Kiss by David. Three. Number three on our countdown of game changing murder trial evidence is the Unabomber, entire cabin, the whole thing, the whole thing.
In 1998, Ted Kaczynski went to prison for life for murdering three people while gathering evidence for the trial. The FBI actually moved his entire 10 foot by 12 foot cabin from its remote spot in Montana, along with all of the pieces of evidence inside, which totaled around 700 individual items. You know, I had no idea that this happened. Oh, yeah. I had no idea it was like on display for a little while. It's definitely unprecedented. Just like let's take the entire domicile.
The cabin is a treasure trove of what Brzezinski's life and mindset was like inside this tiny little box in the woods. My worst nightmare, scary.
The FBI's cabin evidence list includes a ton of unspecified documents, three typewriters. Why do you need three? Like you have a tiny little cabin. Why do you need three typewriters?
Because if you run out of ink, you just go to the next one and the next one, and then you change all the ink at once.
You got to skim the fat to stop adding stuff into this little tiny space. Seriously, it was also a list of corporate executives, but the FBI kept names secret. Yeah, you don't want to be doing that. I'd like to know. I know. I want to know.
The FBI list showed that he kept a bottle of prescription anti-depressants. And depression is a central theme of the Unabomber manifesto. And that is true. They all have a manifesto. I did know that. Yeah, that's one big thing about it. The bomber goes on to describe the increased use of antidepressants as part of society's mind control attempt, and that's where it gets a little weird.
That's where it goes a little bit off center.
But, you know, whatever he wrote, quote, Instead of removing the conditions that make people depressed, modern society gives them antidepressant drugs, which like if he wasn't him, you'd be like, OK, yeah, but really put it together with everything else. And you're like noted that it noted they found the book Ice Brothers by Sloan Wilson.
And in 1980, he sent a bomb to one of his targets, which was inside a copy of Ice Brothers. Oh, would you look at that?
Isn't that interesting? Connections to Checkbook's and Kazinsky name were from an account he apparently kept at the Western Federal Savings Bank, and that was in there.
And the bank has two branches in Helena, Montana, where Kazinsky was known to travel frequently, usually by hitching a ride from a neighbor.
Which can you imagine being one of those neighbors? No, thank you. Why did I do that? Why was I living next to Mr. Ted Kaczynski?
Don't help anyone. Don't be nice.
I'm so glad my floppy disk was on, I was literally just going to say, so you got your floppy disk? I got it.
I'm looking for my winter apparel. I don't know. I don't either. Is it going to come? You know, nobody's ever going to know. I don't know. Are you expecting anything else on the list?
Honestly, I was so focused on Dennis Rader and his dumb being on this list that I didn't even think of anything else. All right. I think we should get back into it. Let's do it.
To. We're down to the final two spots on our countdown of game changing murder trial evidence at number two is the Zapruder film.
Oh, you know, it's the clearest existing footage of the JFK assassination which was used during the Clay Shaw trial in 1969. Clay Shaw was a businessman who was tried as a coconspirator to Lee Harvey Oswald, the pivotal piece of evidence. The Sprouter film ended up stealing the spotlight at trial, but ultimately failed to bring closure to a nation who just wanted justice.
Why did I not think of this as one of the you know, I didn't either. And then I got to the end and I was like, oh, yeah, I'm like, oh, Zapruder.
So the major point prosecutors tried to make, supported by various ballistics experts, was to prove a triangulation of gunfire. Make sense, which I was going to say it makes sense. I'm a various ballistic expert. Of course you are. Obviously. Now, they wanted the jury and the world to believe there was more than one shooter based on the bodily reactions of JFK when he was shot because it was strange. He lurches forward, right? Yeah, it's weird.
So the Zapruder film was the most vivid footage of the assassination they had, including the infamous Frame 313, which actually shows the kill shot.
It is such a heavy film. I can't I never put one clip. Yeah, I don't want to see it. Clay Shaw was implicated by rumors, assumptions, his association with various characters in New Orleans that loosely led to Oswald.
It was basically just hearsay. You know, I think he did it. Maybe so.
Shaw admitted that he had seen Oswald distributing political leaflets once in New Orleans. But that's really the only connection they had. Not huge. Not at all. During Shaw's trial, prosecutors were so focused on confirming their multiple shooter theory that Clay Shaw was kind of an afterthought. Yeah. At his own trial, he would get that a little weird. He was acquitted when the verdict of not guilty was read. There was a victorious uproar in the courtroom. Wow.
People were like y'all. I didn't know that. I know. Or maybe they were like, no, I don't really know.
I wasn't there for him. Three thirteen was supposed to change American history and bring justice to the death of an American president. But it did not. It didn't know. One, and that brings us to number one on our countdown of the top ten pieces of game changing murder trial evidence, the bloody gloves from the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial.
Winter apparel has arrived at your outerwear that you were thinking of in one of the most memorable moments of one of the most memorable murder trials of all time.
O.J. Simpson tried on a pair of gloves said to be worn by the killer. The gloves did not fit, which may have led the jury to acquit. One glove was found at the crime scene where Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found murdered.
The other apparently matching glove was found at OJs house.
How'd that happen?
Prosecutor Christopher Darden asked O.J. to try on the gloves live during the televised trial and they appeared to be too small.
Mm hmm. Darden claims O.J. was a better actor than he thought he was and made it seem like they didn't fit either way. It was pivotal in terms of opinion.
I remember this vividly. I think I was in like fourth grade where, you know, so I was alive.
No, I wasn't a lot.
You are not in 1995. But either way, I remember this. I remember seeing it on television. I must have been really cool. And I remember seeing him, like, hold up his hand. And you were like, you're not even pulling that under your head.
Well, that's something. And then he had gloves on underneath. It was just. Yeah, because. Because you don't want to miss evidence. Yeah, it was insane.
Johnnie Cochran, OJs defense attorney, came up with his now famous courtroom argument.
Do you know what I do? If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.
Later, it was discovered that O.J. was taking arthritic medication for his hands and allegedly was told that if he stops taking the meds, his hands would swell. Ha ha.
Well, yeah, that Robert Shapiro, OJs lawyer, revealed he tried on the gloves during the trial and knew they wouldn't fit based on the size of O.J. hands.
In 2012, Darden accused defense lawyer the late Johnnie Cochran of manipulating the gloves and possibly tampering with evidence.
I might believe that there's many reasons like you can see that he's not pulling it on his hand when you can see it, but also you could wear small gloves and still do the job. Yeah, they don't have to fit perfectly. No, that's true. You don't have to acquit if the glove does not just say. So obviously, we agree with the podcast research gods today, number one is number one, it's right there.
It's right there that you must have had it, but you were acting like you didn't. I know. And that's such a good actor. And I was kind of excited to be like, you guys forgot O.J..
What? I'm as good an actor as O.J. Simpson pulling on the glove, I guess. Look at me. Look at you, honey.
And of course, floppy disk had to be there. Floppy disk.
Oh, yeah, I was waiting for that, you know, and I was happy to see Amanda Knox on there.
That's a case that is rife with craziness. Yes. The Lindbergh baby won. I was pretty shocked to see because I didn't even think of it.
I know actually, I didn't think of that either. But then I was like, oh, that actually makes Lhasa. But it's such an infamous case.
And then, of course, the fact that I did not even think of the Zapruder film, I know like I said, I didn't either. It makes me question myself a little bit. So good job. Park research, God killing it.
You nailed it. Well, thanks for listening. We'll be back next week with another great episode. Remember to follow Crime Countdown on Spotify to get a brand new episode delivered every week.
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