People v. Coy

Decision Date10 January 2001
Docket NumberDocket No. 217707.
Citation243 Mich. App. 283,620 N.W.2d 888
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Laurence Deane COY II, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Jennifer M. Granholm, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, Susan K. Mladenoff, Prosecuting Attorney, and Jennifer Kay Clark, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for the people.

State Appellate Defender (by Peter Jon Van Hoek), for the defendant on appeal.

Before TALBOT, P.J., and HOOD and GAGE, JJ.


Defendant Laurence D. Coy, II, was charged with open murder. MCL 750.316; MSA 28.548. After a jury trial, defendant was convicted of second-degree murder, M.C.L. § 750.317; MSA 28.549. The trial court sentenced defendant as a third-offense habitual offender,1 M.C.L. § 769.11; MSA 28.1083, to forty to sixty years' imprisonment. Defendant appeals as of right. We reverse and remand for a new trial.


The victim and her young son shared a Battle Creek apartment with Kristina McKee and her two sons. Between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. on January 5, 1998, McKee returned home from work and discovered the victim's body lying on the bloodstained floor of the victim's bedroom. An autopsy revealed that the victim had suffered twenty-five to thirty stab wounds, including slashes to her head, face, neck, torso, hands and arms, and four deep and parallel blade penetrations through her back and lung. The victim also had two black eyes and more bruising near her chin and left arm. Police found in the victim's bedroom some blood on the bedroom door and doorknob, the victim's bloodstained bedding, a bloody pen on the floor near the victim, and a broken, bloody steak knife blade. Police detected no indication that anyone had broken into the victim's apartment.

The police investigated several possible suspects. Defendant became a suspect because he and the victim had occasionally engaged in sexual intercourse, and defendant had visited the apartment several times each week. The police also discovered after the murder that defendant had cuts on his right hand that required emergency room treatment. Subsequent laboratory testing revealed that the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) properties contained sperm cells removed from the victim's body appeared to match defendant's DNA profile.2 The prosecutor also introduced evidence that defendant's DNA profile was consistent with a mixed blood sample detected on the broken knife blade and the victim's bedroom doorknob. Despite defendant's presentation of several alibi witnesses, the jury, after deliberating for several days and requesting and obtaining review of the testimony of the prosecutor's DNA expert witness, found defendant guilty of second-degree murder.


Defendant first contends that the prosecutor improperly solicited testimony from the DNA expert witness regarding the possible presence of defendant's blood on the broken knife blade and the doorknob without offering any accompanying statistical evidence that clarified the significance of the possible DNA match. Defendant's contention raises an evidentiary issue, which issue the prosecutor initially labels unpreserved given defendant's failure to object at trial to the challenged testimony. We agree that defendant failed to properly preserve this evidentiary question. While defendant at a July 13, 1998, pretrial hearing moved to quash the information on the basis that the district court in binding over defendant considered meaningless and inadmissible DNA evidence absent some accompanying and interpretive statistical analysis,3 defendant did not timely object at trial to the DNA expert's testimony. MRE 103(a)(1); People v. Furman, 158 Mich.App. 302, 329-330, 404 N.W.2d 246 (1987).

"Mere forfeiture, [however], does not extinguish an `error.'" People v. Carter, 462 Mich. 206, 215, 612 N.W.2d 144 (2000). An appellate court properly may review forfeited claims of error when the forfeited claim involves a plain error affecting the defendant's substantial rights. People v. Carines, 460 Mich. 750, 763-764, 597 N.W.2d 130 (1999) (explaining that the plain error rule applies to unpreserved constitutional and nonconstitutional claims of error); People v. Grant, 445 Mich. 535, 547-549, 552-553, 520 N.W.2d 123 (1994). Accordingly, we will first review defendant's contention to determine whether the admission of the challenged DNA testimony constituted plain error. We note that the available record affords us an ample basis for reviewing defendant's contention.4 See People v. May field, 221 Mich.App. 656, 660, 562 N.W.2d 272 (1997)("The purpose of the appellate preservation requirements is to induce litigants to do what they can in the trial court ... to create a record of the error and its prejudice.").


Because an understanding of the character and function of DNA enhances an understanding of the nature of the instant evidentiary issue, we provide the following brief and general background:

Each human body contains an enormous number of cells, all descended by successive divisions from a single fertilized egg. The genetic material, DNA, is in the form of microscopic chromosomes, located in the inner part of the cell, the nucleus. A fertilized egg has 23 pairs of chromosomes, one member of each pair having come from the mother and the other from the father.... Before cell division, each chromosome splits into two.... [E]ach daughter cell receives identical chromosomes, duplicates of the 46 in the parent cell. Thus, each cell in the body should have the same chromosome makeup. This means that cells from various tissues, such as blood, hair, skin, and semen, have the same DNA content and therefore provide the same forensic information. [National Research Council, The Evaluation of Forensic DNA Evidence (1996), p 12.]
Genes direct the various traits of each human being by controlling the differentiation of the billions of cells in each individual's body. Together, the total genetic information contained in a person's genes comprises a genome, a unique genetic blueprint for each person.... A person's entire genome can be found inside each cell in the same central location.... [Walters & Palmer, The Ethics of Human Gene Therapy (1997), p 4.]

* * *

Genes are comprised of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA is a molecule that consists of two intertwined strands, wrapped around each other in helical fashion, like the stripes of a barbershop pole. Accordingly, when James Watson and Francis Crick discovered DNA's structure in 1953, they called it a double helix. [Id. at 5, 562 N.W.2d 272]

This Court previously characterized the double helix somewhat differently, as

a twisted ladder. Phosphate and deoxyribose sugar form the rails of the ladder. Four chemical bases—Adenine (A), Cytosine (C), Guanine (G), and Thymine (T)—lie next to each other on the sugar links along the sides of the ladder. Each A always bonds with a T on the other side of the ladder, and each C always bonds with a G on the other side of the ladder, so that the possible base pairs on the ladder are A-T, T-A, C-G, and G-C. The base pairs are connected by a hydrogen bond, such that the bonds form the rungs of the ladder. There are approximately three billion base pairs in one DNA molecule. Although no two human beings have the same sequence of base pairs (except for identical twins), we share many sequences that create common characteristics such as arms, legs, fingers, and toes. The sequences of variation from person to person are known as polymorphisms. They contain different alleles, which are alternate forms of a gene capable of occupying a single location on a chromosome. Polymorphisms are the key to DNA identification because they create the individual characteristics of everyone and are detectable in laboratory testing. [People v. Adams, 195 Mich.App. 267, 270, 489 N.W.2d 192 (1992), mod on other grounds 441 Mich. 916, 497 N.W.2d 182 (1993).]
Although all genes are made of DNA, not all DNA makes up genes. The bases are strung along in varying order along the double helix, sometimes constituting genetic information and sometimes not....
Only a small fraction (between 1/20th and 1/35th) of the 3 billion base pairs of human DNA represents genes. Researchers estimate that there are between 50,000 and 100,000 human genes. [Walters & Palmer, supra at 5.]

"The position that a gene occupies along the DNA thread is its locus." National Research Council, supra at 13. "In forensic work, the genotype for the group of analyzed loci is called the DNA profile." Id. at 14.


In this case, a laboratory utilized the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method of analyzing the DNA recovered from the sperm samples; the broken, bloody knife blade; the pen; hairs found on the victim's body; the bloody bedroom doorknob; and the victim's and the defendant's blood samples.

The PCR method is, simply put, a procedure to replicate repeatedly part of the DNA of a cell so that millions of copies of a particular gene are eventually produced in order to analyze the DNA.
The steps used in the PCR process involve some of the same steps used in the RFLP [restriction fragment length polymorphisms] method.5 First, the DNA must be purified. This means that the cell containing the DNA must be broken with an enzyme and a soap. It is simply a way to isolate the DNA from foreign elements.
The second step is for the isolated DNA to be amplified; this is where the PCR method is distinctive. No more than fifty percent of the specimen being tested is added to a special mixture containing the chemicals that amplify the isolated DNA. This includes an enzyme found in hot springs (Taq polymerase), buffer salts, and primers, which are small pieces of DNA that recognize the four bases, A, T, G and C. It is Taq Polymerase specifically that copies the targeted gene.
The DNA in the PCR mixture is then

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    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • October 7, 2003 forty to sixty years' imprisonment. This Court reversed defendant's conviction and remanded for a new trial. People v. Coy, 243 Mich.App. 283, 620 N.W.2d 888 (2000). On retrial, a jury convicted defendant of voluntary manslaughter, M.C.L. § 750.321; he was sentenced to twenty to thirty y......
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