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Physical evidence takes center stage at murder trial

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CANTON — Several pieces of physical evidence were presented by the prosecution during a murder trial Tuesday afternoon, but a St. Lawrence County jury may have yet to hear full details on how those items relate to the case.

Anthony W. Lalonde, Michael D. Durand and Michael S. Thorpe, all of Ogdensburg, are facing charges of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the Nov. 18, 2010, death of 83-year-old Ralph E. “Gene” Lawton, who lived at 930 Ford St. in the city.

Prosecutors alleged the trio, wearing masks, burst in to the apartment in search of drugs and money. Mr. Lawton died, allegedly from injuries suffered in the ensuing scuffle. Investigators have said the masked intruders menaced Mr. Lawton and his roommate, Guy C. Bartlett, with a wooden object.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Amanda N. Nissen on Tuesday introduced a vial of Mr. Lawton’s blood that was collected during his autopsy, as well as a black leather glove, DNA sample kits, an axe handle police discovered around the corner from Mr. Lawton’s apartment and a machete found under Mr. Lawton’s bed.

The relevance of the vial of blood was not immediately obvious Tuesday. Defense attorneys questioned its admission, but Judge Jerome J. Richards permitted its introduction subject to explanatory testimony later.

The glove, which police said they found on a kitchen chair in Mr. Lawton’s apartment, has been the focus of previous testimony. St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew J. Ashley was testified last week about how he used K-9 officer Hershey to track the glove’s scent from the Ford Street apartment toward a parking area behind the building headed toward Denny Street, where the dog lost the scent.

Victor R. Gardner, a friend of the defendants, testified April 23 that Thorpe told him after Mr. Lawton’s death that he hoped a glove lost at the scene wouldn’t turn up, as it was his glove and likely contained his DNA.

Earlier Tuesday, a St. Lawrence County jail inmate, Shawn L. McGregor, testified that Lalonde had discussed the incident with him while in the Canton lockup, including concerns about a missing glove.

Ogdensburg Police Detective Sgt. Robert H. Wescott testified Tuesday that it was he who instructed Mr. Ashley to have the K9 sniff the glove for its scent before he took the glove into evidence.

Mr. Wescott also testified about taking DNA samples from Durand and Thorpe during interviews after the incident, and about finding the axe handle and machete.

The detective was still on the stand when testimony ended for the day at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, and questioning by Ms. Nissen up to that point did not draw any specific connections between the recovered items and the suspects. As for the large knife, an Ogdensburg woman, Cassandra L. Premo, 24, testified Monday that prior to the incident, Lalonde asked her if she or anyone she knew wanted to participate in “something crazy,” offering few details except that the person involved might have a machete.

“I knew old man Gene had a machete, but (Lalonde) wouldn’t tell me who it was,” Ms. Premo said Monday, using a neighborhood nickname for Mr. Lawton.

Testimony resumes this morning in St. Lawrence County Court.

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