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Fingerprint evidence disputed in podiatrist's homicide trial

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

By Virginia Kopas Joe, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A Westmoreland County detective testified yesterday that podiatrist Karl Long's fingerprints are on the blood-stained plastic bags police say were used to suffocate his estranged wife. But the significance of the prints was in dispute.

Day two in Long's homicide trial was dominated by evidence taken from a bedroom in the couple's Ligonier home on Oct. 3, 1999, the night police say Long suffocated his 40-year-old wife, Elaine. Long, 44, faces life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder.

Long's attorneys say he acted in self-defense after his wife attacked him with a 10-inch kitchen knife. Long says he blacked out during the fight and woke to find his wife dead beside him, a dry cleaning bag over her head. He was treated for a 3/4-inch knife wound to the upper right chest.

The trial began Monday before Westmoreland County Judge William J. Ober.

Yesterday, former county Detective Merle Brandt, now retired, said that the prints on the plastic bag were consistent with fingerprints made by someone applying pressure.

But under cross-examination by defense attorney Caroline Roberto, Brandt said the thin, fragile bags used by dry cleaners can also receive similar prints without any force being applied. Brandt also acknowledged that no one can say when the prints were made. Karl Long had picked up laundered shirts from a local dry cleaner days before the killing.

Brandt found seven prints on the bags, but no prints on the knife.

Jurors also saw autopsy photos yesterday, viewing them on monitors that were turned away from courtroom spectators. The photos showed that Elaine Long had numerous bruises on her neck, forehead and thighs and hemorrhages in both eyes.

Brandt, testifying about photos of the crime scene, also suggested that Elaine Long's body might have been moved.

Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, who performed the autopsy on Elaine Long, may be called to the witness stand when the trial resumes this morning.

Virginia Kopas Joe can be reached at 724-837-1725 .

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