Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Police and prosecutors credit with tentatively identifying the remains

Expert: Missing '07 homicide victim found

Published 06/21/09

A partial skeleton found last year in Baltimore may be the missing remains of a 2007 county homicide victim, according to police, prosecutors and a new federal database.

Forensic investigators are trying to use dental records to positively identify the body as Michael Francis, 21, of Brooklyn Park, but an orthopedic screw found in a right femoral bone makes them believe they are on the right track.

"We are hopeful the remains are those of Michael Francis so the family can have some closure on that end," said Capt. David Waltemeyer, the head of the county's Criminal Investigation Division.

The discovery comes as Antonio Moore, 22, of Brooklyn Park, prepares for his third jury trial in regard to Francis' April 14, 2007, death in Brooklyn Park. Charged with first-degree murder, Moore saw his first trial end in a mistrial March 3, 2008, and his second trial end with a hung jury on May 30, 2008.

While prosecutors had no body during either trial to prove Francis was dead, jurors said they weren't worried about that. Only one juror refused to convict after the second trial, and he withheld his vote because he didn't believe the state's witnesses could be trusted, other jurors said.

Still, prosecutors hope a special medical examiner will be able to positively identify the remains on Tuesday, giving them one more piece of evidence when they take the case back to court Dec. 1.

"We are anxiously awaiting the results of the special medical examiner," said Kristin Fleckenstein, a spokeswoman for the State's Attorney's Office. "We look forward to proceeding with the new evidence."

District Public Defender William Davis, Moore's defense attorney, could not be reached for comment.

Police and prosecutors credit a relatively new database with tentatively identifying the remains. According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System - - the skeleton was located April 20, 2008, in a wooded area off Strathdale Avenue in Baltimore. The skeleton was missing limbs.

Investigators at that time determined the person who died was probably black, 20 to 25 years old and about 5 feet, 5 inches tall. The person probably died in 2007.

Erin Jones, a forensic science analyst with System Planning Corp., which provides technical support for the federal database, tentatively identified the body earlier this month after Francis' information was added to a sister database dealing only with missing persons -

Jones said she noticed several similarities between Francis and the skeleton - both were the same age, sex, size and race, and both appeared to have died at about the same time. The remains also were found in relative proximity to where witnesses said Francis was shot.

"They were similar enough that I contacted Anne Arundel County Police," she said.

Jones explained the big question at that point was whether Francis had a screw in his right femur. She asked detectives to check with Francis' family, who confirmed he had been in an accident and had needed such a screw.

"This is my first hit," Jones said, happy to be able to reunite Francis' family members with their loved one. "We've gotten several hits, but this is the first one I have gotten."

Richard A. MacKnight, Jones' boss, said the U.S. Department of Justice launched the database dealing with unidentified bodies in 2007, but didn't launch the one dealing with missing persons until January. He said NamUs - the system's common moniker - still is working with different police departments to get them involved.

"Given the number of law enforcement agencies, it is a long-term proposition in getting the majority of the agencies to use the system," he said, eager to get the word out about this apparent success. "This is how the system is supposed to work."

According to court testimony, Moore shot Francis with an assault-style rifle about 3 a.m. April 14, 2007, behind 5102 Brookwood Road in Brooklyn Park. Witnesses said he stuffed Francis into the trunk of a Toyota Solara, then drove off with his girlfriend in the front seat.

Witnesses also testified Moore beat another man, Teiko Johnson, earlier that morning with the butt of the rifle and tried to put him in the trunk.

While the second jury could not reach a verdict regarding the murder charge, it did convict Moore of first-degree assault and two lesser charges in the beating of Johnson. Moore eventually was sentenced to 25 years in prison for that assault.

Circuit Court Judge Michele D. Jaklitsch declared a mistrial in March after a state witness testified the Toyota Solara that Moore was driving the day of the killing was stolen from Russell Toyota in Baltimore. The judge feared the jury could have concluded that Moore stole the car, even though he never was charged with the crime and someone else was under investigation for the theft.

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