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The People of the State of Illinois v. Michael Slover

September 9, 2011


Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County No. 00CF140 Honorable Timothy J. Steadman, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook

JUSTICE COOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Steigmann and Pope concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 Defendants, Michael Slover, Sr., Jeanette Slover, and Michael Slover, Jr., appeal from the trial court's denial of their motion for forensic testing under section 116-3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/116-3 (West 2008)). Defendants argue the court erred by finding that the fingerprint testing they requested would lack "the scientific potential to produce new, non-cumulative evidence materially relevant to [their] assertion of actual innocence." 725 ILCS 5/116-3(c)(1) (West 2008). We disagree and affirm.


¶ 3 In May 2002, a jury found defendants guilty of the first degree murder of Michael, Jr.'s ex-wife, Karyn Slover. Michael, Sr., and Michael, Jr., were also convicted of concealing the homicide. The trial court sentenced each defendant to 60 years in prison for murder and sentenced Michael, Sr., and Michael, Jr., to consecutive 5-year terms for concealment. This court affirmed on direct appeal. People v. Slover, No. 4-02-0587 (June 30, 2005) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

¶ 4 In December 2009, defendants moved to reinstate their previously filed motion for fingerprint testing under section 116-3. This motion concerned certain forensic evidence obtained in the course of Karyn's homicide investigation: namely, latent fingerprints discovered on a Hardee's bag found in the car Karyn was driving on the day of her disappearance and a latent fingerprint found on the guardrail of the bridge from which, investigators believed, Karyn's dismembered body was dumped into the lake where it was later discovered. Defendants sought an order requiring the fingerprints to be run through the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The motion also alleged information regarding the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) maintained by the Illinois State Police (ISP). Defendants alleged the fingerprint testing had the potential of identifying a viable alternative suspect and, thus, corroborating defendants' claim of actual innocence.

¶ 5 In February 2010, the trial court held a hearing on defendants' section 116-3 motion. The State agreed to have the fingerprints from the Hardee's bag run through the FBI's IAFIS. The court heard testimony from four witnesses on the guardrail fingerprint and the development, implementation, and use of the ISP's AFIS, as follows.

¶ 6 AFIS is a system of storing and organizing fingerprints. In part, it was designed to enable law-enforcement personnel to identify the source of latent fingerprints by matching them to prints of known individuals stored in AFIS's database. This database is comprised of more than 6 million people's fingerprints--about 60 million individual prints, in all. As of 1999 or 2001, AFIS has three algorithms for conducting searches of its database. As a result of the expansion of the database and the development of new algorithms, AFIS is increasingly effective in matching crime-scene fingerprints to prints already stored in its database.

¶ 7 Only ISP fingerprint examiners are authorized to perform an AFIS search. A fingerprint examiner conducting an AFIS search on a latent print scans an image or a tracing of the print into the computer; isolates its high-quality area; pinpoints its "core"; orients it along a vertical "axis"; locates the "points," or "points of minutiae," or "points of comparison"--areas where a ridge ends or bifurcates; identifies the print's pattern type; and identifies, if possible, which finger on which hand made the print. Computers are unable to identify the core, axis, points, pattern type, and finger; an examiner must provide this information to the computer executing the search. Identifying the pattern type and finger narrows the scope of the search so only a corresponding subset of AFIS's 60 million prints is searched. AFIS employs an algorithm or algorithms selected by the examiner to compare the latent fingerprint to those stored in its database based on the relative locations of the core, axis, and points. It assigns a score to each searched print reflecting the relative likelihood of matching it to the latent print. No matter the quality or quantity of the information submitted or the likelihood of obtaining a match, AFIS provides a list of the 10 highest scoring stored fingerprints, along with a computer image of each print and identifying information on the person to whom the print belongs, such as his or her name, sex, race, and age. The examiner compares computer printouts of the 10 potential matches to the latent print to determine whether any of the stored prints can be positively eliminated as a match; if a print cannot be eliminated as a possible match, then the examiner requests its original to be sent from a central facility for further comparison.

¶ 8 In addition to this background testimony, the trial court heard testimony by the State's and defendants' experts debating the "suitability" of the guardrail fingerprint for AFIS testing. Kenneth Moses, an expert for defendants, was director of Forensic Identification Services, an independent forensics laboratory in San Francisco. Moses testified he studied the ISP's standards for AFIS comparison of latent fingerprints and concluded the guardrail print was suitable to be run through AFIS. He opined the print came from the upper part of a thumb. From an image of the print provided to him by defendants, Moses identified 13 points--the ISP's guidelines recommend that a minimum of 8 be identified. Although the core was not visible in the available portion of the print, Moses recommended running the print through AFIS two or three times with different estimations of the core's location and the axis's orientation. These estimations would be "a lot more than guess[es]" as they would reflect Moses's experience examining thousands of fingerprints.

¶ 9 Mary McCarthy, the State's expert, was the latent print training coordinator for the ISP. She testified she determined the guardrail print was unsuitable for AFIS testing. She could definitively identify only about six points on the print. Other possible points were unclear or obscured and would have been cropped out if she were going to search for the print in AFIS. Further, some points seemed so high up on the finger that, McCarthy opined, they were unlikely to be included in any fingerprint stored in AFIS's database. She explained stored fingerprints often omit the fingertip due to the finger's curvature. McCarthy testified she was unable to determine the core's location and the axis's orientation and to identify the pattern type. Her training taught her not to guess the location of points or the core, the orientation of the axis, or the pattern type. McCarthy explained latent fingerprints with no identifiable pattern type should not be searched in AFIS. She testified Moses's proposed method of conducting multiple searches using different estimations of the core and axis was contrary to her training.

ΒΆ 10 In March 2010, the trial court denied defendants' motion in a written judgment. The court explicitly found McCarthy's testimony more credible than Moses's. The court found the guardrail print was unsuitable for AFIS testing and concluded "there is no potential to produce new evidence materially relevant to the defendants' assertion of actual innocence." Alternatively, the court concluded any evidence resulting from the testing would have been cumulative, referring to the fact that, before the trial, defendants, Karyn, and the ISP's crime-scene personnel had been eliminated as the source of the print. It ...

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