JEFFERSON COUNTY - At the end of the fifth week of testimony, the defense has rested its case in Michael Blagg’s second trial for the 2001 murder of his wife.
The final witness was Dr. Phil Danielson, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Denver who has been a point of contention and legal sparring over the course of the trial.
The prosecution has accused Danielson of not answering emails, not providing the specific information that they had requested and not abiding by court deadlines. It got to the point where the judge was considering barring him from testifying — something she ultimately didn’t do out of concern for a mistrial.
“I cannot take away their entire defense with regard to the DNA — and I know the defense has said over and over again, it’s very important evidence,” Judge Tamara Russell said. “However, I have to say, the way they’ve acted about getting the information in, I don’t know how important it is. If it’s that important.”
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Danielson finally took the witness stand late Thursday afternoon and his testimony continued until the lunch break on Friday morning.
He independently interpreted DNA collected by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation at the crime scene in the days after Nov. 13, 2001. This was when Michael Blagg called 911 and said he came home from work to find the back door ajar. Nothing else was amiss, except for the master bedroom, where a jewelry box had apparently been thrown on the floor. There was a large pool of blood on his wife Jennifer’s side of the bed.
She and their 6-year-old daughter Abby were gone.
CBI came to the family’s quiet two-story home just outside of Grand Junction the next day. Danielson’s testimony focused on DNA found in the minivan parked in the garage, a pair of gloves and on the step leading into the house.
This stain on the step was likely blood, according to CBI analysts. But their tests proved that a major component of the sample had DNA from Matt Saluto — a CBI agent. A minor component was 114 times more likely to belong to Jennifer Blagg than a random person, according to Danielson.
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Contamination of the crime scene has been a major tenet of Michael Blagg’s defense. They say that the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and CBI botched their investigation and that from the beginning, they were biased by the false assumption that in crimes like these, it’s “always the husband.”
Danielson also pointed to a test done after Jennifer Blagg’s unrecognizable body was pulled from the Mesa County landfill on June 4, 2002. Investigators took two samples of her femur, but DNA tests from CBI made it appear these weren’t from the same person.
“So a sample switch or sample mix-up must have happened at some point between the initial collection of the bone and the final DNA test,” Danielson said.
During cross-examination, Deputy Mesa County District Attorney Trish Mahre brought up the fact that Jennifer Blagg’s body was in the landfill with human waste and had trash inside her body during her autopsy.
Multiple CBI employees were in the courtroom for Danielson’s testimony — including CBI Forensic Biologist Cynthia Kramer, who previously testified about the DNA found at the crime scene and could be a rebuttal witness for the prosecution.
The prosecution claims that sometime during the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 2001, Michael Blagg shot his wife in the face while she was sleeping, wrapped her body in a tent, loaded her in the family minivan and then threw her into the dumpster at his office, Ametek Dixson.
DNA samples matching Jennifer Blagg were found in the backseat of the family minivan, as well as the steering wheel and brake pedal.
During his testimony, Danielson claimed that an unknown man’s DNA was found on the armrest of the vehicle and that there was very little DNA actually on the brake the pedal.
A glove found at the crime scene, meanwhile, had a large amount of DNA from Saluto, he claimed. A CBI analysis, however, called the results inconclusive.
“So the profile developed on the glove is 6,910 times more likely if Matt Saluto and a second person — because it’s a two-person mixture — are the contributors than if simply two people, two random people are contributors,” Danielson said.
9NEWS is in the courtroom and will post updates during the breaks. Closing statements in the Michael Blagg trial are slated for Monday.