LIHUE — A jury will begin deliberations this morning in the manslaughter trial of a Kapaa man.
Prosecutors called the last of the state’s 17 witnesses shortly before noon on Thursday, and attorneys spent the afternoon negotiating the details of a set of instructions that will be handed over to the jury charged with deciding the fate of Cody Safadago.
Safadago, 48, is standing trial for manslaughter, negligent homicide and another seven lesser counts for allegedly stealing a car, driving it drunk at 88 mph and eventually crashing head-on into a Mazda sedan driven by Kayla-Huddy Lemn, a young woman on her way home from work who died at the scene.
Stephanie Regan, a criminalist with the Kauai Police Department, spent about an hour on the stand answering questions about her forensic examination of the Nissan pickup truck involved in the April 27, 2017 hit-and-run car accident that killed the 19-year-old Kapaa woman.
Regan analyzed the truck involved in the crash and did preliminary DNA analysis on multiple samples taken from the cabin of the pickup. Her testing of stains in the truck’s interior revealed what she called “a strong likelihood for the presence of human blood,” and a red-stained section of carpet cut from the floor of the truck matched a blood sample taken from Safadago.
Experts from the lab testified earlier in the trial that it is statistically all but impossible that the two samples they tested contained different DNA. Safadago’s blood in the car is considered a key part of the evidence prosecutors have directly linking him to the vehicle.
No one saw Safadago emerge from the truck after the accident, and the state’s only witness that testified to seeing him in the pickup was a tow truck driver, who said he caught a glimpse of a “kinda Caucasian looking” man with a beard as the pickup sped by at 80-plus miles an hour.
So, the state’s case relies heavily on the DNA evidence.
Initially, Regan’s testimony was fairly routine. She talked about her background — she graduated from Harvard and is well credentialed — and her role as a civilian employee with the KPD, where she performs a variety of forensic crime scene tests that are essential to police investigations.
But during cross-examination, Regan testified that only one of three blood-stained samples she took from the truck’s interior — blood stains were found on the carpet near the center console, a floor mat and the driver’s side door panel — was sent into a DNA analysis laboratory on the mainland for further testing.
She also said the driver’s side airbag that deployed in the crash — it can be seen clearly in a number of photos submitted by prosecutors as evidence — was no longer in the truck when she conducted her tests. When Safadago’s attorney, Manuel Guerrero handed her one of the pictures and asked if she recognized it, Regan responded, “I never saw the airbag in this case except for the photograph you just showed me.”
Two other items that had been inside the truck at the scene were also gone by the time Regan examined the vehicle — a towel that had been on the floor of the truck and a dollar bill sticking up from the center console can be seen in multiple crime scene photos shown to the jury.
In addition to the preliminary DNA testing she performed in the Safadago case, Regan dusted the truck for fingerprints. The detail may have been a surprise for the people who have been sitting in on the trial for the past week — the KPD’s lead investigator on the case testified Tuesday that the truck was never checked for fingerprints.
Regan said she dusted the interior of the truck for prints at the KPD’s request about five weeks after the accident at police headquarters but found no fingerprints anywhere.
At least two people drove the Nissan pickup on the date of the accident — the driver who caused the wreck and the son of the truck’s owner, a young man who told the jury he drove it to Taco Bell for dinner a few hours before it was stolen from in front of his home in Kapaa.
“Did you check the steering wheel, the rearview and sideview mirrors?” Safadago’s attorney, Manuel Guerrero asked Regan, who insisted her examination was thorough and said she found no fingerprints at all.
“None?” Guerrero asked again.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.