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"Today's decision puts a spotlight on the importance of reliable expert opinion testimony in criminal trials," says Van Hollen. "FBI Agent Safarik was uniquely qualified to assess the facts and circumstances and give his expert opinion on point."
MADISON - Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen gave high praise today to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals for upholding Craig A. Swope's two Walworth County convictions for first-degree intentional homicide. The court of appeals held in pertinent part that the circuit court correctly admitted trial testimony regarding "death scene analysis" performed by a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Supervisory Special Agent. The agent's analysis supported the conclusion that the deaths of Swope's parentsDuane and Carolee Recobwere the result of homicide.
"Today's decision puts a spotlight on the importance of reliable expert opinion testimony in criminal trials," says Van Hollen. "When a jury must sort out the facts of two charged homicides with no eyewitnesses, the State's expert may be of great help."
The Recobs were discovered by police in their Town of Delevan home on February 29, 2004. Their bodies were decomposed and mummified. A medical examiner could not determine the precise cause and nature of their deaths. Swope was eventually charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide. At trial, the State presented testimony from FBI Supervisory Special Agent Mark Safarik, a veteran member of the bureau's Behavioral Analysis Unit. He testified to his analysis of the scene and circumstances of the Recobs' deaths. Based on his analysis, Safarik offered his opinion that the Recobs' deaths were homicides, not the result of natural causes or accident or suicide, and their deaths were consistent with their having been smothered.
Van Hollen explained: "Under Wisconsin law, expert testimony must be relevant, must be presented by a qualified expert, and must help the jury determine an issue of fact. Here, the jury had to decide whether the Recobs were murdered or whether they died from other, noncriminal causes. Agent Safarik was uniquely qualified to assess the facts and circumstances and give his expert opinion on point."
As a separate issue, the court of appeals also held that Agent Safarik properly relied on the opinions of two other expertsa research physician and a medical statisticianregarding the low probability of two people suffering simultaneous natural deaths.
Today's decision of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals may be found on the court's website:
Swope remains at the Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin.
The Walworth County District Attorney's Office prosecuted the case in the circuit court. Assistant Attorney General William L. Gansner represented the State of Wisconsin in the court of appeals.