Gun residue was on hand

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 3, 2001


Sunday, June 03, 2001

HASTINGS, Minn. – Forensics tests show Scott Christian was around a recently fired handgun before police arrested him in connection with two killings at an Austin motel, but that doesn’t prove he fired a weapon, or when, experts testified Friday.

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Tests conducted last October detected gunshot residue particles on Christian’s right hand, said expert witness Michael Martinez, trace evidence specialist for the Bear County Criminal Investigation Laboratory in Texas.

"Scott Perry Christian either discharged a firearm, handled a discharged firearm, or was in close proximity to a discharged firearm," Martinez said.

Tests did not reveal any residue on co-defendant and alleged shooter Vernon Powers, he said.

Prosecutors in the murder case against Christian, Powers and David Christian believe Powers and Scott Christian wore gloves when they shot two roofers in the Downtown Motel last June, but Christian had part of his right hand exposed because of a splint he wore on his wrist.

No gunshot residue was found on samples taken from Christian’s bandage, Martinez told the court.

When a gun is fired, heavy elements from the initial explosion land on nearby objects, Martinez said. Using an electron microscope, forensic scientists can identify certain elements like antimony, lead and barium that are unique to a bullet’s primer tap.

"What I’m looking for is those elements that are contained in that pressure cap or primer cap," Martinez said.

The combination is unique, he said.

"There hasn’t been any known sources in finding these elements together other than the firing of a firearm," he said.

The residue remains until it is wiped or washed away. On skin, the probability of finding the elements diminishes greatly within a few hours. The elements can be rubbed off through contact with other objects, washing, blood, dirt or sweat, he said.

On clothing, however, the elements can be caught in the fibers and remain for some time, he said. In his experience, the elements are too light to go through gloves or other fibers, Martinez said.

The tests do not determine what kind of gun was handled, or when, Martinez said. It also cannot determine whether the person handled the weapon, fired it or was standing within a few feet of its discharge.

Samples were taken only from Powers and Scott Christian, not from any other people alleged to be present during the robbery, Martinez said. The seat-belt retraction compartments witnesses say Scott Christian and Powers used to hide the weapons were not tested for evidence of secondary transfer, he said.

On Monday, the prosecution will begin its second week presenting its case against Powers, Scott Christian and David Christian, all of St. Paul. The three have pleaded innocent to first- and second-degree murder charges related to the June 30, 2000. shooting deaths of St. Paul roofers Juan Vincente Ramirez and Raul Pedro Guiterrez, and wounding of Benjamin Moreno Hernandez.

Prosecutors expect to call a series of law enforcement officials, state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigators, forensic scientists and medical specialists to testify.

Call Jennifer Hemmingsen at (507) 379-3438 or e-mail her at