Yellow-handled Pliers


Evidence Item No.:  144

Collected on: December 27, 2002

Collected by:  Detective Dodge Hendee

Reason:  A hair wrapped around the nose-end of the pliers

Media Reports:  Nancy Grace's repeated references to the hair in the pliers

Case No:  CV-02-010941

Request No:  07

Tested by:  Sarah Yoshida, Sr. Criminalist

Date Tested:  February 24, 2003; March 19, 2003

Bates No. for Report: Report No. 11, 3769; with notes, 23674

Results:  The pliers were not used to cut the chicken wire


Initial Suspicion


The pliers were found in the bottom of the boat, under one of the seats.  Because they had a hair, they were thought to have been used to cut the wire that tied the anchors to Laci's body, specifically an anchor around the neck.  The pliers were sent in for a tool mark comparison with the chicken wire that was collected from the bed of Scott's Ford Pickup.


Media Reports


Nancy Grace repeatedly referred to the hair as being wrapped "round and round and round" the pliers.  Other reporters also characterized the hair as wrapped multiple times in the pliers.


Hendee described how the hair was in the pliers


Primary testimony about the collection of the pliers came from Detective Hendee, as he was the Crime Scene Manager at the warehouse on December 27, when the pliers were collected.  This is Hendee's description of the hair in the pliers, given under direct examination.  At first he says there is a loop, then clarifies that the loop might have been formed by the veggie material stuck to the hair.

HENDEE: Right. And, and the hair was kind of looped around. I don't know if it was actually stuck with the vegie material that caused the hair to stick together, or whether it was actually wedged back. I remember seeing a loop in the hair.

Then he clarifies that the hair was not wrapped around the pliers.

HENDEE: No, it didn't wrap around the pliers, didn't wrap around the needle nose. It just went through. It looked like at one location it just went through the pliers.

This is Hendee's description of how he collected the hair.

HENDEE: I asked for an envelope. An envelope was brought to me. It was a four by six yellow envelope. Very similar to the ones, like this one. And I opened it up, looked inside, made sure we had a brand new envelope, put the pliers in, pulled the handles apart, pulled the pliers out, saw that the hair was no longer there. Look down in the envelope, saw what looked like a single hair in there. I didn't pay much more attention to it, I just knew that the hair was inside there, and that's what I was concern with. Closed it up, put the clasp on, and took it out to the van, sealed it tight.

Even though Hendee clearly disputes the notion that the hair was wrapped around the pliers, Rick Distaso continued to characterize it as such.  These are his statements from the Closing Arguments.

He puts her, she's in the boat. He attaches the weights to her. He gets, in the process he gets some of her hair caught in these pliers. And let's talk about that. I'm going to talk about it a little more later, but just right out of the gate: Your hair does not fall into and wrap around the teeth of pliers. That doesn't happen.

How many of you sitting on this jury operate pliers on a regular basis, probably most people. Everybody uses needle-nose pliers for something. How many times does your hair fall into the pliers and wrap around through the jaws? That doesn't happen.

Later in the Closing Arguments, Distaso asserted outright that "these pliers were used in this crime."  However, he does not mention that Sarah Yoshida testified that the pliers were not used to cut the chicken wire, nor did the State produce evidence of any other wire used in the commission of the crime, which the pliers would have cut. 


The exhibits


People's 214A-B are the photographs that Sarah Yoshida took on February 24, 2003 as part of her examination.  214B is Bates No. 23624. 



The tests


Yoshida's first test was the tool mark analysis, comparing the pliers with the chicken wire (February 24, 2003).

YOSHIDA: I look at the tool itself, looking to see how new it is. Then typically I make some test marks to see how the things that are cut with this tool will look, after they're cut with the tool. Then I will also examine the item that was cut and look at the edges. First of all, was it really cut. Sometimes I get things that are not cut. And then looking to see if this is a possibility that this tool that I have cut it to begin with.

Yoshida determined that the chicken wire had been cut.  She then examined the pliers to see if they could have been used to make the cuts.

YOSHIDA: Well, first what I did was to see if I could see any areas where the tool could have been used. In this case they were extremely rusted. I had a hard time actually even opening them. And to see if I could find any places where the rust was clear, showing that that area of the tool had been used to cut something recently.

Yoshida was shown People's 120A, a photo of the pliers the day they were collected.  When asked if there was any changes that occurred, she said some "Looks like some corrosion has occurred. You have some white material forming over the metal. There's obvious signs of rust in my photograph that I took."

HARRIS: Now, the photograph that's up there is 120 A. The testimony is that that photograph was taken on December 27th and that those pliers were found in the bottom of a boat in which there was water that was collected. If that was saltwater that these pliers had been exposed to, does that cause corrosion or rust to happen on pliers?

YOSHIDA: It actually will increase the time or increase the rusting, or speed of the rusting, if you have saltwater versus regular water.

On March 19, Yoshida examined the pliers again.  She said they had even more rust than on February 24. 

HARRIS: Now, based on what you saw of these particular pliers, Modesto PD number 144, and depicted in 214 B, could you tell if those had been used to cut the chicken wire
HARRIS: "No" you couldn't tell or "no," they weren't used to cut the chicken wire
YOSHIDA: They were not used to cut the chicken wire.
HARRIS: And how is it that you were able to determine that
YOSHIDA: Well, what I did, going back, I examined the cut ends of the chicken wire. I did not use these specific tools because I knew by looking at them that there had been change over time. There was no recent, as in no rust has been cleared from cutting anything,
HARRIS: Let me stop you there. What do you mean by that, that rust had not been cleared by cutting anything
YOSHIDA: Well, when you, when you have something that's rusted and you use it to cut something, some of that rust is going to get brushed away, so you're going to see clear areas on the cutting edge where the rust has been removed. So you're going to see metal, and what you can see in the photographs is all I could really see was rust all along the cutting surfaces. This is going to create change, any type of tool mark that I, test mark that I would have made. So what I did was I took tools that were similar to this in the laboratory and used them to cut some of the chicken wire. And the cuts that I made were nothing at all like what I observed at the end of the chicken wire. So the chicken wire was not even cut with a similar tool like these types of cutting surfaces.

David Harris iterated Yoshida's conclusion that the pliers were not used to cut the chicken wire:


HARRIS: So regardless of whether these were recently rusted or had been rusted over two months, this tool did not make that cut.

YOSHIDA: Correct.




Detective Hendee's testimony, under direct examination, makes it quite clear that the hair was not wrapped around the pliers, as depicted by Rick Distaso, much less "round and round and round" as depicted so often by Nancy Grace and others.


Moreover, David Harris, in his direct examination of Sarah Yoshida, makes it quite clear that, "regardless of whether these were recently rusted or had been rusted over two months," the pliers were not used to cut the chicken wire that was found in the bed of Scott's pickup.


The State produced no other theory about any other wire that would have been used to tie the anchors to Laci.  Therefore, Rick Distaso misrepresented the facts when he said the pliers had been used in this crime, as attorneys are only allowed to argue the evidence presented in the trial.