Police testify murder suspect could be innocent

News-DemocratMay 22, 2014 

Retired Illinois State Police Lt. Dave Wasmuth testified Thursday that it is possible that someone other than Carlos Garrett sexually assaulted and beat Centreville teenager Nicole Willis to death.

Wasmuth reopened the Willis murder case in 2010 after discovering the sexual assault kit taken during Willis' autopsy.

"I looked at this case because the sexual assault kit was located, was in pristine condition and that there were things inside that kit that could help identify a suspect," Wasmuth said.

A full male DNA profile found on one of Willis' fingernails was linked to Garrett, 53, after the profile was loaded into a state database. A DNA match later was made to Garrett, a former prizefighter, who in 2010 served a prison sentence on a drug conviction.

Wasmuth interviewed Garrett three times. Each time, Garrett denied knowing Willis and denied killing her.

During those videotaped interviews, which were played for the jury in Garrett's murder trial on Wednesday, Wasmuth kept asking Garrett for an explanation for how Garrett's DNA got under Willis' fingernails.

Under cross-examination by Thomas Q. Keefe III, Garrett's attorney, Wasmuth told jurors that it was possible that if Garrett and Willis had innocent contact 24 years before Garrett was questioned, it was possible that Garrett just wouldn't remember.

"It's entirely possible that Carlos is innocent, isn't it?" Keefe asked.

"Yes," Wasmuth replied.

Keefe also questioned Wasmuth about three other suspects who were spotted approaching Willis Oct. 4, 1989, on North 69th Street in Centreville.

"At the time you opened this investigation, they were viable suspects?" Keefe asked.

"Yes," Wasmuth answered.

Keefe questioned Wasmuth about items missing from the Centreville police evidence, including Willis' skirt, blouse, jacket and bra, and a hat that was found under Willis' body.

ISP Special Agent Jamie Brunnworth testified Thursday that there were six searches conducted for the hat and the hair. The searches were conducted at the Centreville police department, and the St. Clair County State's Attorney and Circuit Clerk's offices.

Illinois State Police Forensic Scientist Amy Hart testified that she compared unknown latent fingerprints found on Willis' bank book located at the crime scene to Garrett's prints and was unable to make a match. Hart asked for impressions to be taken from the tips of Garrett's fingers to compare, but she testified that she never received them.

Garrett may have met Willis on the bus after she was picked up on State Street in East St. Louis, then attacked her as she walked home, police theorized. Willis rode the bus home from Cahokia High School. Garrett usually rode the bus from his job to his house on 80th Street.

But St. Clair County State's Attorney Deb Phillips said that it is possible that Garrett drove that day or rode with a friend.

Keefe questioned Wasmuth about whether Garrett was working at a north St. Louis fertilizer factory the day Willis was murdered. Wasmuth testified that Garrett's regular work hours were from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a half-hour for lunch. Wasmuth testified that Garrett could have left earlier if he didn't take a lunch that day.

Keefe is expected to call Garrett's boss at the fertilizer company during his case that is expected to begin Friday. Keefe has said that Garrett could not have left his job before 4 p.m., leaving only 15 minutes for him to walk the half-mile to the bus stop, then travel across the river to 69th Street area where Willis was last seen alive.

The defense is expected to call two witnesses during their case, then the case will be sent out to the jury.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.

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