26-year-old Lukis Anderson had a blood alcohol level of 0.41, a “bombed out of your skull” level (0.08 being the common legal intoxication limit for driving a car), at around 10pm on a public street in San Jose CA one night last November, the same night Raveesh Kumra was bound and murdered and his wife, also bound, was severely beaten, both in their Monte Sereno CA home. Anderson was so intoxicated in fact that an ambulance was called and he was transported to the hospital. The Kumra’s were discovered in the early morning hours of the next day and the crime lab went to work processing evidence.
A number of suspects were quickly identified. DNA recovered from the fingernails of Raveesh Kumra were a solid match to DNA already on file for a homeless man who was not stranger to the criminal justice system – Lukis Anderson. Based on the DNA evidence, Anderson was arrested and charged with a host of felonies including murder and aggravated assault. Javier Garcia and Deangelo Austin, both 21, were also arrested based on matches to DNA found at the crime scene, and charged. Prosecutors alleged the three had carried out the home invasion together. A fourth suspect in the case, Raven Dixon, 22, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
Anderson remained in jail as his court appointed public defender was trying to put 2 and 2 together, and coming up with everything but 4. The DNA was a dead on match. If the results were accurate, Anderson was in contact with Kumra within the last day or so. But there was a major problem with that seemingly provable conclusion. The paths of the homeless man and the rich business tycoon likely never crossed absent the alleged criminal activity. Yet while the crime was being committed Anderson was being picked up about 10 miles away in downtown San Jose on a city street, by paramedics called to assist the semi-conscious, severely intoxicated man. He was transported to a local hospital where he remained for the next 12 hours, found to have an often coma producing blood alcohol level. “On the night of the homicide he was severely intoxicated and was picked up by law enforcement and transferred over to Valley Medical Center,” Santa Clara County Public Defender Kelley Kulick said.
Anderson could not have been involved in the crime at the Kumra’s house. And yet there was DNA evidence enough to send someone to death row in such cases, in fact people have been sent to death row on far less convincing evidence. But even the prosecutors were losing faith in their case against Anderson based on what could only be viewed as a truly iron clad alibi. The focus turned to the crime lab and accusations of a lab error were tossed about. The lab stood by their results. Now law enforcement officials wanted to know if Anderson was not present when the crimes were committed, how and when did this homeless man’s DNA end up under the fingernails of a murdered prominent, multimillionaire, local businessman?
As the collective head-scratching continued while Anderson cooled his heels in jail and the investigation dragged on, it is not clear who astutely put 2 and 2 together finally arriving at 4. After media stories speculating the prosecution would seek the death penalty, and then stories speculating on sloppy crime lab work, the reporting turned to the breaking news June 1st that Anderson was being released from jail based on his solid alibi even in the face of damning DNA evidence . He had been imprisoned for over 5 months.
Then, a couple of weeks later, in a first of its kind occurrence, investigators determined that Anderson’s DNA was transferred to Kumar’s body by paramedics who it turns out had first cared for Anderson and were then called to the scene of the murder. Precisely how this DNA transfer occurred has yet to be determined, but kudos to whoever was on the ball enough to think of the possibility of the same paramedics being a common contact between Anderson and Kumra on that night.
The transfer of DNA from one patient to another by paramedics raises all sorts of questions about proper infection control and occupational safety practices for the crew of the Rural Metro ambulance involved of course, but this appears to be the first ever case of biological evidence transfer by first responders leading to a wrongful accusation of a suspect.
Tags: crime lab
, homeless man
, innocent man