Fingerprint testimony wraps up first week of Leigha Ackerson murder trial |

Fingerprint testimony wraps up first week of Leigha Ackerson murder trial

Ackerson's fingerprint among those found inside Kelley's home

Leigha Ackerson stands accused of murdering Catherine Kelley in her home near Edwards.
Daily file photo

EAGLE — Day 5 of Leigha Ackerson’s first-degree murder trial included a wide range of evidence found in and around Catherine Kelley’s home in Pilgrim Downs — as well as the fingerprints collected and analyzed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

Matt Richardson, formerly a crime scene analyst for CBI and now a fingerprint analyst for the bureau, took the stand Friday. He helped investigate the crime scene at Kelley’s home on Jan. 25, 2018, the day after she was found murdered.

Richardson said he tried to lift a number of latent — or hidden — fingerprints from Kelley’s home. He tried to lift prints from a shower handle in the bathroom where Kelley was found strangled to death, and from the interior of a glass shower door in the bathroom of a guest bedroom. That’s where authorities allege Ackerson and her husband, Jacob White, broke into Kelley’s home by smashing out a ground-level window and then hid out in the home for two days before killing Kelley.

Richardson also tried to lift fingerprints from Kelley’s BMW, parked in her garage, from several locations on its front and rear passenger doors.

Police testified Friday that they found the car’s keys on the garage floor along with an assortment of Kelley’s personal paperwork. 

Lincoln Pogge, a forensic scientist with the latent fingerprint unit at CBI, took the stand to testify about the findings of the fingerprints taken, and the testing of several items Eagle County detectives sent to CBI for fingerprint analysis. 

Those items included two hunting knives and sheaths; a Cutco knife and sheath that was possibly stolen from Kelley’s home and found in an abandoned backpack near her house; a Cutco knife that was stabbed into Kelley’s eye; and a Cutco knife with an 8-inch blade police found laying on top of a pile of blankets and bathrobes covering Kelley’s body.

Former Eagle County detective Gianni Robinson testified Friday that the latter Cutco knife had dried blood only along its sharp edge, indicating it was likely used to cut, and not to stab. 

None of those items were found to have conclusive fingerprints on them except for one of the two hunting knives, which Pogge testified held a fingerprint from the right middle finger of Jacob White.

Of 18 other fingerprints collected and analyzed, Pogge testified that five were matched to Jacob White and one was matched to the right index finger of Leigha Ackerson. Pogge was, however, unable to say Friday what locations in Kelley’s house or on Kelley’s car those fingerprints came from. 

Other evidence

Robinson took the stand again Friday and detailed numerous other pieces of evidence and conditions found in Kelley’s home. In the trash bin in the garage, police found glass shards similar to those in the guest bedroom bathroom where authorities allege Ackerson and White broke a window to enter the home. A closet in Kelley’s master bedroom had several items of clothing in disarray on the floor — something Robinson said would have been out of character for Kelley and her tidy home based on conversations with her daughter.

Other photos detailed parts of Kelley’s home that appeared to vary from its usual tidiness, and a closet that appeared to be missing baskets from its shelves, with similar if not identical baskets found along the road to her house. Robinson also detailed the contents of those baskets, which included a bundle of brown rope similar to the rope used to strangle Kelley to death, blankets, an assorted mix of men’s and women’s clothing, and Always brand menstrual pads.

White has already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary for his role in Kelley’s killing. He was sentenced to 68 years in prison.

Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum told Judge Paul Dunkelman on Friday that prosecutors plan to conclude their case against Ackerson by next Tuesday or Wednesday, at which time the trial will be turned over to Ackerson’s defense attorneys, Amber St. Clair and Jennifer Henslee.

Prosecution witnesses scheduled to testify next week include two CBI agents who will testify about DNA evidence collected and analyzed in the case, a public defender, and Heather Sellers, who allegedly came forward with information about Kelley’s murder after Ackerson confessed details of the crime to her in the Eagle County jail.

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