Local News

Ex-pastor's DNA was on murder victim's steering wheel

Posted October 2, 2009 10:02 a.m. EDT
Updated October 2, 2009 7:07 p.m. EDT

— DNA evidence was the focus of testimony Friday in the Robert Reaves murder trial, with forensic experts testifying that a sample found in the victim's car indicated the suspect likely touched the steering wheel.

Reaves is accused of killing Latrese Curtis, a North Carolina Central University student, and leaving her body along Interstate 540 in Wake County.

Drivers discovered the 21-year-old on the morning of Jan. 30, 2008. She was stabbed nearly 40 times in the head, neck, chest and stomach.

Although Reaves' DNA was found on the steering wheel, State Bureau of Identification agents also testified it was not found on a knife or screwdriver found in his car nine months after the crime.

A Wake County sheriff's deputy testified earlier this week to finding the items in a far back seat of Reaves' Chrysler Pacifica.

Although prosecutors did not offer evidence connecting either weapon to the crime, the state's associate chief medical examiner testified that it could be.

The blade, Maryanne Gaffney-Kraft said Tuesday, is 3.125 inches. The largest wound on Curtis' body was 5.5 inches. The force of the blade going into the body could make up the difference, she said.

Defense attorneys cross-examined Friday's witnesses about the probability of the DNA being transferred from Reaves' house, because Curtis was there prior to her death.

But SBI forensic DNA analyst Michelle Hannon said the most likely way it got on the steering wheel was by him touching it.

Also on Friday, an investigator with the Wake County City-County Bureau of Identification testified that he found abrasions on the back of Reaves' right hand and on the right leg.

Prosecutors have said that Reaves followed Curtis from his home that night and killed her in a jealous rage because he considered her an obstacle to his sexual advances toward his roommate, with whom Curtis had been having sex.

That roommate, Steven Randolph, took the stand Thursday, testifying that he and Curtis had had sex twice over a period of several months and that she was at his home the night before her death.

Several other women with whom Randolph had been having a sexual relationship prior to Curtis' death also testified about being harassed by an unidentified person, including one woman who said she had her tires slashed.

Another friend of Randolph's testified that he recognized the voice on a voicemail message claiming responsibility for the tire slashing to sound like that of Reaves'.

Reaves, who was a minister at Cedar International Fellowship in Durham, has claimed he was attending a church function the night of Curtis' death.

Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in this case, meaning that Reaves would face life in prison if he is found guilty.