Experts testify about DNA evidence in Zoe Hastings murder trial

Testimony on Friday in the trial for a man accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering 18-year-old Zoe Hastings in Dallas focused on the technical and scientific evidence in the case.

Hastings disappeared in Oct. 2015 after returning a rented video at a northeast Dallas drug store. Her body was found the next day near her family’s wrecked-out minivan close to White Rock Lake.

Prosecutors said Hastings was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death by the defendant Antonio Cochran and they used science to try and prove their case on Friday. Forensic experts were called to the stand talk about hair, sperm and other DNA samples that were found on Hastings’ body.

David Spence, a trace evidence specialist from the Southwest Institute of Forensic Science said several strands of hair were recovered from Hastings’ hands. One fragment of hair was of negroid origin and was distinctly different than the others.

But there was not enough hair to determine who it came from or if it was head or pubic hair, Spence said. He also said no hairs taken from Cochran’s clothing were a match to Hastings.

All of the strands of hair were sent off for additional DNA testing. Mitochondrial DNA expert Gloria Demick from Penn State University told the jurors she performed those tests.

“Antonio Cochran could not be excluded as one of the many possible contributors” she said of the results.

In their cross examination, defense attorneys questioned the science behind the DNA testing and pointed out that neither expert could link the hair samples specifically to Cochran.

“There’s not a single item attributed to this case that you can say more than likely belongs to Antonio Cochran?” defense attorney Paul Johnson asked.

“To link it to a specific person? No there is not,” Demick said.

However, she said 99.96 percent of the population can be excluded as a match to the hair that was found in Hastings’ hand. Cochran cannot be excluded, she said.

Other forensic experts testified that male DNA was found on Hastings’ body and there was a small amount of seminal fluid. But it was not enough of a sample for a genetic profile.

Wtiness Gary Whitman also took the stand and testified he saw an African American gentleman approach Hastings.

"He looked like he was up to something, walking aggressively in a sneaky way,” Whitman said. "She was trying to get away and I saw him reach in his pocket, and the next thing you know she gave in and got in the car."

Whitman said he went to a convenience store and told them to call 911 because there was a kidnapping.

Whitman was later arrested on his outstanding warrants and while he was in jail saw Antonio Cochran as he came to jail and felt that was the same man he'd seen on Oct. 11.

Defense attorney Paul Johnson challenged Whitman on his history of addictions, saying his credibility was low and he had a record “as long as my arm.”

On Thursday, jurors heard testimony from Hastings’ mother and the first responders who found her body. A witness also said he saw Hastings abruptly leaving the drug store parking lot with a man who he could not identify.

Cochran is not facing the death penalty in this case because he has an intellectual disability. If he is found guilty, he instead will be automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Courts are closed Monday for the federal Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, so testimony in the case will resume on Tuesday.