Ithaca, N.Y. — Three forensic scientists testifying in the rape trial of former Cornell student Peter Mesko on Friday said the victim’s rape kit and clothing samples did not reveal sperm or seminal fluid or enough DNA to link the crime to Mesko.
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Mesko, 23, stands accused of raping a fellow Cornell student in late March 2013 and faces charges of rape, sexual abuse and burglary.
The Tompkins County District Attorney’s office has said that Mesko entered the alleged victim’s room while she was sleeping and raped her. However, Mesko’s attorney says that his client was too drunk to have committed the crime, and that no physical evidence links the former wrestler to it.
That very question — the amount of physical evidence against Mesko — was at the heart of much of Friday’s testimony. While the prosecution tried to frame the lack of clear physical evidence as not harmful to the case, the defense emphasized in cross examination that Mesko’s DNA was not found on any of the bodily and clothing swabs examined.
These testimonies came the same day as a forensic nurse testified that the alleged victim’s injuries were consistent with those of someone who had been sexually assaulted. Nurse Joyce Bleiweiss did note the lack of clear signs of physical harm like bruising and bleeding on the victim, but she said this is not uncommon even when an attack had occurred.
The three forensic scientists’ testimony focused on the results of tests done on a rape kit and clothing samples for sperm, seminal fluid and DNA.
Melissa Breedlove, a forensic scientist with the NYS police forensic investigations center, testified that she observed no sperm on any of the swabs she tested from the rape kit. All but one sample tested negative for semen, with the final sample’s results coming back as inconclusive, Breedlove said.
Fellow forensic scientist Cherie Ann Burnham, who had conducted DNA analysis on swabs from the rape kit as well as from the clothing samples, testified that while there was a DNA presence from a “minor contributor,” there was “insufficient genetic information” to determine who that person was. Similarly Theresa White, also a forensic scientist with the NYS police forensics center, said that there was not enough genetic information found on cuttings from the clothing samples.
“Male DNA was present but at insufficient levels to make comparisons to,” White said, describing the amount of DNA as “very small. Too small to compare to a known control sample.”
When questioned by the prosecution, Burnham said that the lack of DNA found during analysis did not mean two people did not come into contact with each other — that a variety of factors, including taking a shower, could eliminate DNA traces.
Still, the defense emphasized that none of the DNA analysis linked Mesko to the crime and that even the test for semen that came back inconclusive could have been a response to an antigen found in other fluids, including female bodily secretions, and thus didn’t confirm the presence of semen.
The trial will resume on Monday.