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Pasco murder DNA evidence questioned

DADE CITY — Prosecutors say the DNA found under Teresa Lodge's fingernails identifies her killer as Derral Wayne Hodgkins. They say Hodgkins strangled Lodge as she fought and scratched him during a fight in her Land O'Lakes apartment in September 2006.

In court Friday, Hodgkins' attorney, citing a scientific article, said the DNA proved only that Hodgkins and Lodge were together in the days before she died.

Hodgkins, 51, is charged with first-degree murder and could face the death penalty if convicted in Lodge's death. He knew her years before he went to prison for raping a 12-year-old girl in 1987. He was on probation for life when he reconnected with Lodge, a 46-year-old cook in a Land O'Lakes diner.

She was found on Sept. 28, 2006, stabbed and strangled on the floor of her apartment.

More than a year passed before Hodgkins was charged in the case. That's when prosecutors obtained the DNA evidence in scrapings from under Lodge's fingernails.

DNA analyst Lisa Thomas testified Friday that the DNA definitely belonged to Hodgkins.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand pointed to a scientific article titled "Prevalence of Mixed DNA Profiles on Fingernail Swabs," which says that DNA can be transferred between people through casual contact and that it can remain under fingernails for as long as 48 hours.

Prosecutors have emphasized that Lodge was meticulous about cleanliness and was seen washing her hands, scrubbing pots and mopping floors at work in the days before she died.

In the study cited in the article, even people who washed their hands multiple times still had DNA under their nails, Brunvand said.

"A high level of DNA remained, right?" he asked Thomas.

"Correct," she said.

Hodgkins acknowledged seeing Lodge about three days before she was found dead. But he lied about it, first telling detectives he hadn't seen her in two years. Then he admitted the two had sex, but he lied because he didn't want his wife to find out.

Closing arguments are set for Monday, and then jurors will begin deliberating.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com.

Pasco murder DNA evidence questioned 08/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 26, 2011 8:30pm]
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