07/27/2020 - US Expert News: Donald “Doc” Nash and an expert Witness who Helped Convict him in 2009 in Habeas Corpus Trial

Donald “Doc” Nash may be free from prison within weeks following the Friday recommendation his conviction for Judy Spencer’s 1982 murder be vacated.

The testimonies were ordered as part of Nash’s habeas corpus petition to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Nash’s claim of innocence is built primarily on claims erroneous forensic science was presented and misrepresented to the jury, by the state, during his 2009 trial for the murder of his partnerJudy Spencer in 1982.

the prosecution’s claim that traces of Nash’s DNA were found in fingernail samples taken
from Spencer’s left hand incriminates him in the murder given Spencer had washed her hair before the incident and Nash had said he'd seen her the day she died.

Called to the stand Wednesday was Criminologist Supervisor Ruth Montgomery of the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s crime lab in Jefferson City. During the 2009 trial, Montgomery testified Spencer’s hair washing would have had great effect on removing any foreign DNA from under her fingernails.

The prosecution later told the jury during closing arguments that Montgomery’s testimony was any foreign DNA would have been removed by hair washing, meaning the presence of Nash’s DNA under Spencer’s fingernails was evidence of his guilt.

Montgomery reaffirmed revisions she’s previously made in a sworn deposition and at a 2018 evidentiary hearing that hair washing would instead have some effect or greater than no effect on removing foreign DNA from under fingernails. Montgomery said the presence of Nash’s DNA under Spencer’s fingernails was itself not significant given they were living together and romantic partners at the time.

Montgomery said she could not say as to how much DNA would be removed by hair washing but enough could be present to identify Nash. She agreed with Snodgrass that the prosecution misrepresented her testimony in saying she said all foreign DNA would have been removed from under Spencer’s fingernails.

During cross examination Spillane asked Montgomery whether the 2.5 nanograms of Nash’s DNA recovered from Spencer’s fingernails was a level expected from casual contact. Montgomery said that level was actually 10 times that of typical causal contact. On redirect, Montgomery told Snodgrass 2.5 nanograms is a level is consistent with romantic partners and could accumulate from repeated casual contact overtime.

Following Montgomery, a taped deposition was played from attorney Frank Carlson, who represented Nash during his 2009 trial and subsequent appeal. Carlson said at the time it didn’t register with him that opening and closing statements given by the prosecution put forth opinions different than what Montgomery gave in her pre-trial deposition or testimony. Carlson said he didn’t challenge Montgomery’s expertise because “junk science” was allowed in courtrooms all over Missouri and he wanted to instead impeach her on the
stand. He said he could not recall whether he considered challenging Montgomery’s hair washing forensics expertise during the trial or subsequently appeal.

The referral comes from retired 11th Circuit Court Judge Richard K. Zerr, who was appointed by the Supreme Court of Missouri to act as special master over three days of evidentiary hearings in St. Charles March 3-5.

Nash’s case is only the third time a preliminary writ of habeas corpus was issued by the Supreme Court of Missouri in its modern history. Most recently, it ordered David Robinson released from prison in 2018 upon vacating his Audrain County murder conviction.