Chemist says baby shot at close range

Testimony stuns courtroom at trial of Neil Entwistle

Deanna Dygan, a State Police forensic chemist, explained tests she ran on the gun prosecutors say was used by Neil Entwistle, who is accused of killing his wife and child as they lay in bed. Deanna Dygan, a State Police forensic chemist, explained tests she ran on the gun prosecutors say was used by Neil Entwistle, who is accused of killing his wife and child as they lay in bed. (BILL GREENE/POOL)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Franci R. Ellement
Globe Correspondent / June 17, 2008

WOBURN - A State Police chemist, in graphic testimony that sent a shudder through a jammed courtroom yesterday, contended that the 9-month-old daughter of slaying suspect Neil Entwistle was shot to death with a .22-caliber Colt revolver pressed to the left chest of her sleeper as she cuddled in bed with her mother.

"I concluded it was a contact shot," Deanna Dygan, a forensic chemist for the State Police crime services, testified at Entwistle's double-murder trial yesterday. "A contact shot is a shot from a firearm when the firearm is pressed directly against the target."

With that stunning declaration, many in the courtroom of the Middlesex Superior Court, where the trial yesterday began its third week, let out a collective gasp. The 10 relatives of Entwistle's slain wife, Rachel, 27, and her baby Lillian Rose, bowed their heads and looked uneasy. One relative put her hand to her mouth and closed her eyes.

Minutes earlier, Entwistle's mother, Yvonne, broke down and sobbed when Dygan clipped onto an evidence board the baby's pink and white sleeper covered by large stains of blood around the collar. Yvonne Entwistle's husband, Clifford, told his wife to "shhh" and attempted to comfort her. The eight men and eight women of the relatively young jury looked on, one man becoming red-faced.

Entwistle, now 29, is accused of killing his wife and child as they lay in the couple's new queen-size, four-poster bed on the morning of Jan. 20, 2006. Prosecutors say he was dissatisfied with his sex life and plagued by financial problems.

Dygan also said she found a quarter-inch hole in the sleeper, which was singed and burned by the bullet as it ripped through. And then she held up a little girl's white onesie, or one-piece bodysuit, which was nearly covered in blood. Neil Entwistle leaned sideways, his head in his hand, and wiped his eyes with a tissue.

Dygan also said she found sperm cells on the front of the green shirt that Rachel Entwistle had on when she was slain as well as on the vaginal swabs taken from her body after she was discovered dead. Dygan said that no evidence of sperm was found on Lillian's clothing or body. DNA specialists are expected to testify later as to where the sperm came from.

Last week, Dygan testified that Rachel Entwistle was probably shot from 18 inches away. Yesterday, she told defense lawyer Elliot Weinstein on cross-examination that the information was based on her experience and education, but not the testing of the weapon allegedly used in the killing. She did, however, say that a ballistics expert, State Police Trooper Stephen J. Walsh, indicated that he believed the shooter was within 18 inches of Rachel when she was killed. But another senior chemist, John E. Drugan, estimated the range could have been as much as 3 feet.

Weinstein grilled Dygan and insinuated that her investigation was biased. "You come in here without a bias or predisposition as to what should be testified to," Weinstein said. "That's the same state of mind you brought to this investigation."

But then why did she write that Neil Entwistle was a suspect in her notes after leaving the Hopkinton Police Department and heading to the rented house the couple had moved into days earlier?

She answered that "investigators gave us some background information."

And, Weinstein said, "that colored your thinking during this investigation." Dygan denied that.

Weinstein also raised the possibility that Dygan's evidence was contaminated and that her investigation was shoddy since she had no one test the alleged murder weapon to see how close the killer was to Rachel Entwistle. He also forced Dygan to admit that no one examining the slaying scene realized that Rachel had been shot in the head.

"That was careful and meticulous work, and yet nobody saw that that evening," Weinstein said.

Drugan, who tested multiple items of Entwistle's for traces of gunshot residue, testified yesterday that he found nothing on the keys to his BMW, the steering wheel, or knife handles found in his family kitchen.

Trooper Walsh, a specialist who identifies firearms, said that he tested the bullet found in Rachel Entwistle's breast and that it appeared to match the weapon believed used in the killings.

But the bullet was so damaged there were some inconclusive identifying factors, he said. "The damage is too great.'

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