- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A divided state supreme court on Tuesday rejected a request to order additional DNA tests on behalf of a convicted killer who claims they could show someone else shot to death his ex-girlfriend and a toddler she was baby-sitting.

Jeffrey Cookson wanted the tests done on clothes worn by another man, David Vantol, who claimed responsibility for the killings but later recanted.

In a 5-1 decision, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld a judge’s ruling that Cookson failed to show that others hadn’t had control of the items or tampered with them.

Writing for the majority, Justice Ellen Gorman said items in question didn’t match exactly with what Vantol described and that the items could not be accounted for during a two-year period before they were obtained from a location owned by Cook’s brother.

“The point of establishing a chain of custody is to demonstrate that the evidence presented for testing is evidence that is germane to the case, and that it has not been tampered with,” she wrote.

But Justice Joseph Jabar came to a contrary conclusion. In dissenting opinion, he said that the law requires “some evidence” of chain of custody but didn’t require Cookson to eliminate “every possibility of tampering.”

He wrote that DNA evidence has been used both to convict and exonerate defendants.

“It is incumbent on the state, in its judicial, investigative, and prosecutorial capacities, to use this ‘unparalleled’ evidence where it is available,” he wrote.

Cookson, who is serving two life sentences, was convicted in 2001 for the killings of Mindy Gould, 20, and 21-month-old Treven Cunningham, both of whom were shot in the back of the head while they were lying face down in a bedroom in Dexter.

The state contended it was a clear-cut case of domestic violence homicide in which Cookson stalked Gould after she ended their relationship. Gould, who’d won a protection-from-abuse order, was living at her sister’s home when she and Treven, her best friend’s son, were killed.

After Cookson’s conviction, his lawyers notified police of Vantol’s confession, and Vantol later led police to a gun used in the killings.

He eventually gave investigators a trash bag with clothing items, a wig and a hat that he said he had worn during the killings and then buried. But he later changed his story and told investigators Cookson persuaded him to confess to the murders.

Cookson sought in 2004 and 2008 to have DNA tests performed on the clothing.

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber said the high court’s decision brings the case one step closure after “a long and painful journey for the victims’ families.”

He said some DNA tests were done on a small number of items, including a strand of hair from Gould’s hand. “None of the testing completed to date has in anyway undermined the jury’s conclusion that Jeffrey Cookson is the murderer,” Macomber said Tuesday.

Additional motions are still pending in the case. Richard Hartley, a lawyer for Cookson, didn’t return a message left at his office Tuesday.


Follow David Sharp on Twitter at https://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP



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