February 27, 2017

WEST PALM BEACH – An analysis of a DNA swab taken from the neck of Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Custer showed there was a 1 in 5 billion chance it came from anyone other than Seth Adams, a sheriff’s forensic scientist testified Monday.

While the eye-popping number seemed to back up Custer’s claims that the 24-year-old grabbed him by the throat minutes before the May 2012 fatal shooting, DNA expert Tara Sessa said scientists need a sample that registers 1 in 300 billion probability before they can confidently link it to a specific person.

Further, the results of DNA testing were not clear-cut. Some of it contradicted Custer’s claims about his confrontation with Adams when they met in the parking lot of the A One Stop Garden Shop in Loxahatchee Groves, where Adams lived and worked.


Attorney Richard Giuffreda, who represents Custer and the Sheriff’s Office, pointed out that Custer’s own DNA wasn’t conclusively identified on his clothing. “DNA doesn’t always transfer to objects it comes in contact with?” Giuffreda asked Sessa rhetorically.

LeClainche insisted that it usually does, particularly in a violent struggle. He shook Sessa’s hand and asked her if it was likely they had exchanged DNA. “Potentially, yes,” she said.

He underscored Sessa’s testimony that she collected a very small amount of DNA from Custer’s neck. She testified that she had to “amplify” the sample, testing it twice, before finding Adams’ DNA.

She also said that almost none of Adams’ DNA was found on the collar of Custer’s shirt. Adams likely brushed the collar if he was reaching for Custer’s neck, LeClainche said.

LeClainche honed in on what wasn’t tested. For instance, although a crime scene investigator swabbed Adams’ hands after he died in surgery, the swabs were never tested to see whether Custer’s DNA would be found. Likewise, Sessa wasn’t asked by detectives to test swabs taken from the inside of Adams’ truck. They never asked her to test Adams’ clothes.

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