Chester County murder case awaits DNA news

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comJuly 29, 2013 

Antwan Terrill White

— A year ago Monday, police say a man sexually assaulted a Chester County teenager in her home before he was shot to death on a rural road minutes later.

In court, prosecutors argued that Antwan Terrill White, 21, killed 39-year-old Michael Jermaine Terry in retaliation for his family member’s rape.

The details haven’t changed since that time, but the case has moved slowly as police, prosecutors and White’s defense attorney wait for test results sent to a state crime lab to return and disclose if DNA found on the alleged murder weapon matches fluids found on the dead man’s body.

But, an official with the State Law Enforcement Division said last week that DNA testing was nearly complete and officials expected to send the results to county authorities this week.

According to police documents, Terry, of Lancaster, went to the girl’s home on a Sunday night, took her into the woods and assaulted her sometime between 9 p.m. and 9:48 p.m.

Deputies responded to the girl’s home after the rape was reported and began an investigation. Moments later, they learned that Terry had been shot.

They found him less than a mile up the road in a pool of blood, suffering from gunshot wounds to his head and chest, police records show.

Chester County Coroner Terry Tinker pronounced him dead at 10:07 p.m.

Police took White in for questioning that night but then released him. A week later, they asked to speak with him again. By the end of the second interview, they charged him with murder.

While investigating, police found the gun allegedly used in the homicide, along with spent bullet casings.

Ballistics was sent to SLED for testing. Police, who first responded to the girl’s home after the rape was reported, collected her clothes and submitted those to SLED as well for testing, deputies said.

A year later, those results still have not returned, said Assistant Sixth Circuit Solicitor Chris Taylor.

“That’s what the wait is,” he said.

Deputies did not have a chance to investigate the rape allegation before learning Terry had been killed minutes away from the house.

During a bond hearing last August, Taylor told a Circuit Court judge that law enforcement believe White went “in pursuit” of Terry and shot him in retaliation for the sexual assault.

Police records indicate that Terry knew the girl he allegedly raped.

Taylor said police spoke with a witness who told them White drove after Terry in his truck, pulled alongside the man and shot him, once in the chest and then again on the left side of his face.

Still, a judge set White’s bond at $40,000. His family managed to post the surety, and he has since been out of prison awaiting trial and a possible preliminary hearing.

“He’s not guilty, that’s our position,” said Chester County attorney Arthur Gaston, White’s lawyer. “He’s still working.

“We’ll have to see what evidence comes out,” he said. “Everything is allegations. He says he did not commit the murder. That’s sort of where we are.”

White has no criminal history before last year’s murder charge.

SLED records show that Terry’s criminal history spans more than 20 years, including convictions for simple assault and battery, public disorderly conduct, drug and weapons possession and copper theft. He was sentenced to three years’ probation for his most recent conviction, a nonviolent burglary in 2007.

The alleged rape is also still under investigation. Authorities have said there is no proof that there was not a rape.

Last November, a grand jury indicted White on the murder charge. In court, his lawyer, Gaston, indicated that his client wanted a preliminary hearing, a probable cause hearing in which the prosecution lays out all the evidence they have collected against a defendant.

A magistrate is then responsible for determining if prosecutors have basis to proceed with the original charge.

Taylor this month said he was unsure if there still would be a hearing for White given the time frame, and Gaston would not say if he would still pursue one.

Taylor would not say if deputies had considered other suspects in the investigation, including the witness who told authorities he saw White shoot Terry.

When police found the gun, they swabbed it and compared it to DNA found on Terry’s dead body, he said.

Taylor was unable to disclose what that DNA was, but he said the killing shot was believed to be “a close end” one. Those samples were sent to SLED.

When state officials first received the DNA requests from the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, they did not realize they were probing samples from the same case because the samples were submitted separately, said SLED spokesman Thom Berry.

“We received information and samples from that first case (the rape) and then received samples of that second case (the murder),” he said. “We were not aware the two were interconnected at the time.”

Officials tested the first DNA sample from swabs submitted to them and managed to create a DNA “panel” or profile of who the samples belonged to, Berry said. “Only until we had an opportunity to get back together with Chester County authorities to find out those two cases were connected” did officials develop a profile on the second case.

The second case included gunshot residue testing, the type of examinations that currently comprise a backlog in SLED’s labs, Berry said.

He was unable to say if the DNA profile from the rape matched the DNA profile from the murder.

The agency has a backlog of about 600 gunshot residue samples awaiting testing, he said.

“Those tests take time,” he said. “We can only do two a day.”

Berry confirmed that Chester County law enforcement submitted items for gunshot residue testing in the murder case. He said that form of testing can find gunshot residue on both a suspect and victim, and will not necessarily “say who shot the gun.”

“It will just give you a result that it's positive for gunshot residue,” he said.

Gunshot residue tests were only requested on the suspect, Terry, he said.

Berry said SLED expected to wrap up its DNA investigation soon and hoped to send the results to Chester County sometime this week.

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