Mark Matthews in a 2013 photo. (Photo courtesy of Mark Matthews family)

Mark Matthews in a 2013 photo. (Photo courtesy of Mark Matthews family)

Evidence argued ahead of Homer murder trial

Lee John Henry is accused of the 2013 killing of Mark Matthews.

The beginning of a jury trial for a Homer man accused of murder hinges on an argument over what evidence can be admitted into that trial.

The state and the defense for Lee John Henry, 58, argued Tuesday in an evidentiary hearing over DNA testing results and whether they should be allowed to be considered by a jury. Kenai Superior Court Judge Lance Joanis heard their arguments and ruled on the issue Wednesday afternoon. Discussion on a second, separate disagreement over the DNA testing also took place on Wednesday, and Joanis was set to announce a decision Thursday morning. In order to hash out the evidence arguments, calling in the jury for the trial has been delayed.

Henry is accused of killing Mark Matthews, who at 61-years-old was found dead in 2013 on the trail that connects to Poopdeck Street. Police found Matthews with his pockets turned out and a later autopsy determined that he died of blunt force trauma to the head.

The case went unsolved for three years until Homer police arrested Henry in 2016, and he was indicted on one count of first-degree murder, three counts of second-degree murder, one count of manslaughter and one count of first-degree murder.

DNA was found in one of Matthews’ pockets, and the results from testing done on it was at the crux of the argument between Public Defender Joy Hobart and Kenai District Attorney Scot Leaders on Tuesday. There were two separate tests done on the DNA sampling, using two different test kits at two different times and using different standards and methods for analyzing. The first of two issues was whether to include the results from both tests, from just one of them or from neither.

The defense sought to keep the first DNA test and results from entering the trial as evidence. Joanis ruled in the state’s favor, however. The first DNA test will be allowed to be presented as evidence.

Leaders argued on Tuesday that the defense had not provided any legitimate legal reason to exclude the analysis from the first DNA tests.

“It’s not unfairly prejudiced in any sense,” Leaders said. “… If you want to couch it in a context of, ‘well there’s two different results,’ that’s why they (the defense) get to use the second one if they want to, to challenge the first result. … It’s not unfair prejudice. It is the standard litigation process. The state submits evidence and they challenge it if they so choose to do so.”

The second issue is whether to allow a third, very recent analysis of one of the earlier DNA test results as evidence in the trial. Leaders told the court on Tuesday that he only recently was made aware of a new software for analyzing DNA test results, and the results of this new analysis done on behalf of the state were sent to him during the evidentiary hearing on Tuesday. Hobart argued that the analysis should not be allowed in at this late stage because it would force the defense to take extra time to get up to speed and potentially delay the trial again. She also argued that the report, while a new way of analyzing test results, is not actually new evidence because it’s a different analysis of a DNA test that’s already been done.

The state and defense argued more fully about the issue of whether to exclude the new analysis on Wednesday. Hobart told the court that research the defense conducted within the last few days shows the method and software are new, and have not yet been used in a criminal case in the state of Alaska. She cited cases in other states where the issue of whether to allow evidence involving analyses that used the new software has been litigated for months before being resolved. The state maintained its position of wanting the new analysis entered as evidence.

Joanis said on Wednesday that he still needed more time to make a ruling on whether to include or exclude the DNA test analysis.

“It’s a big decision, and it’s a difficult decision,” he said. “And because of that, I’ve decided I’m going to take some more time. … I apologize about not giving a quick answer, but this isn’t the kind of issue you run across every day.”

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

More in News

Data from the state of Alaska show a steep increase in COVID-19 cases in January 2022. (Department of Health and Social Services)
Omicron drives COVID spike in Alaska as officials point to decreasing cases in eastern US

On Friday, the seven-day average number of daily cases skyrocketed to 2,234.6 per 100,000 people

Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire
Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures, stands in front of a ship on May 14, 2021.
Smooth sailing for the 2022 season?

Cautious optimism reigns, but operators say it’s too early to tell.

Former Alaska Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar speaks a news conference on Jan. 10, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska, after she sued the state. A federal judge on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, ruled that Bakalar was wrongfully terminated by the then-new administration of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy for violating her freedom of speech rights. (AP File Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)
Judge sides with attorney who alleged wrongful firing

Alaska judge says the firing violated free speech and associational rights under the U.S. and state constitutions.

Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel (left) swears in student representative Silas Thibodeau at the Kenai City Council meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai junior sworn in as council student rep

Thibodeau says he wants to focus on inclusivity and kindness during his term

Branden Bornemann, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, celebrates the 25th anniversary of the forum on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘A voice for this river’

Forum reflects on 25 years protecting peninsula watershed

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Earthquake Center provides information on a 5.1 magnitude earthquake that struck at approximately 8:18 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. The quake struck approximately 17 miles southeast of Redoubt volcano or 41 miles southwest of Kenai, Alaska, at a depth of 72.8 miles. (Screenshot)
Quake near Redoubt shakes peninsula

The quake was centered 41 miles southwest of Kenai.

Most Read