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Expert uncertain on carpet sample

A sample of carpet entered as evidence in Travis Vader's murder trial.

A forensic specialist has testified at Travis Vader’s murder trial that a carpet found near Lyle and Marie McCann’s abandoned SUV matches a sample from their home, but he can’t conclude they’re from the same sample.

Douglas Orr was qualified as an expert in the area of forensic identification in relation to fibres and textiles and gave his evidence Wednesday morning. He said although at a microscopic level those two samples, along with yarn samples taken from inside the SUV, are “indistinguishable,” at a macroscopic level there are too many differences between the two carpet samples to make a firm determination either way.

“I was asked to examine these three items to determine whether or not … they originated from the source carpet in the McCann home,” he said.

Court has previously heard testimony about fibres or yarns found in the back of the McCanns’ SUV, a large piece found on the ground near the SUV, and a sample police took from a spare roll in a storage room at the McCanns’ St. Albert home.

The McCanns were last seen July 3, 2010, presumably en route to British Columbia. Their motorhome was found burning on July 5, and they were reported missing July 10 after they failed to meet their daughter in Abbotsford as arranged. Their bodies have never been found.

Orr completed a master’s degree in chemistry, and joined the RCMP in the Trace Evidence Section in1991. Since then he has completed several years worth of training and professional development in examining and comparing fibres and textiles. His curriculum vitae was entered as Exhibit 24, and his report on his examination as Exhibit 25

He said the three samples, when examined using several sophisticated microscopy techniques, were indistinguishable from one another. In examining the two samples of intact carpet, however, he identified several differences including colouring of the walking surface, malleability of the carpet, and colouring of the adhesive.

Crown prosecutor Jim Stewart asked if it was possible those differences could be caused by weather or other wear, such as if the pieces had been used to line the storage compartments of a motorhome for example.

Orr replied that without performing wear tests on samples of the carpet he could not provide that opinion one way or the other. He acknowledged it was possible, and likewise said the opposite was possible, and that the wear belied the difference between the two.

“On the other hand, there may be a true difference between the carpets that’s masked by that wear,” he said.

Defence lawyer Brian Beresh applied for and received permission to have his own expert witness, a forensic microscopist who he expects to call for evidence later in the trial, present during Orr’s testimony. That man sat at the defence table and had hushed conversations with Beresh prior to his cross-examination.

Beresh confirmed Orr did not inquire about the manufacturer of the carpet, when and where it was made or the amount produced, how many were sold or any other of that kind of information.

He also introduced a copy of an email exchange between Orr and his supervisor about the evidentiary value of the examination, in which Orr wrote in part “I can’t see how the fibres will link the suspect to the motorhome” as Exhibit 26.

Orr noted those emails were dated March 11, 2013, prior to his examination and Dec. 17 report. He said it’s protocol to ask questions of investigators to ensure the laboratory’s limited resources are being used effectively.

“That was my view before I did the examination,” he said when Stuart was questioning him again after Beresh completed his cross-examination.

The pieces of carpet and fibre themselves were entered collectively as portions of Exhibit 27.

Tuesday afternoon’s testimony consisted almost exclusively of Sgt. Michael Donnelly identifying photographs he had taken and physical evidence he had collected at various scenes. That evidence was completed by the end of the day, although he is expected to return later in the trial to give evidence about fingerprints that were collected.

Wednesday afternoon’s testimony is expected to include an expert on cellphone towers and where a call may have come from to be routed through a particular tower. Another RCMP officer is also expected to testify about his role in collecting physical evidence.

Doug Neuman: