Celia Hartnett
(Testimony from 22 February 2005)

More about Gunshot Residue

The lack of gunshot residue particles on the hands of Robert Blake in the hours after the May 4, 2001 shooting of Bonny Bakley indicate that the actor was not the shooter. So said a forensics expert hired by the defense who testified today.

Celia Hartnett, laboratory director of Forensic Analytical in Heyward, California, told jurors that she has has worked in the field of gunshot residue analysis for 32 years.

Gunshot residue has been a recurring theme at this trial, its absence in significant numbers being the point that experts and television pundits have continually stressed when criticizing the prosecution's case against Robert Blake. On the night of the shooting, Blake was taken from the crime scene to the North Hollywood police station where he was questioned and tested for gunshot residue.

Gunshot residue particles consist of a combination of three elements - lead, barium, and antimony. Blake was found to have three microscopic particles consisting of lead only on his left hand, and two of the same on the right hand. These would be considered "consistent" with gunshot residue - in other words, gunshot residue is one of several explanations for the presence of the lead. But they were not "specific" to gunshot residue - in other words, the lead particles could not be conclusively as having come from a gun.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Blake had carried his own firearm that night, and small amounts of gunshot residue can transfer from a gun that has previously been fired to the hands and clothing of a person coming in contact with that weapon.

Hartnett's research showed that Blake would have had nearly a hundred particles still on his hands when he was tested. She told jurors that she took into consideration the fact that at least hours had elapsed between the time of the shooting and the test, that he had run his hands through his hair, and had handled a glass of water, among other things.

Hartnett explained how she came to her conclusion. She ran experiements with a gun identical to the murder weapon in this case and noted that, after the gun was twice discharged, a total of 2,440 particles remained on hands of the test subject.

During cross-examination, Samuels tried to attack Hartnett's studies, arguing that her her laboratory used ammunition different from the bullets used the murder. But Hartnett explain that the very same ammunition couldn't be obtained because it went out of production back in 1994. So, she said, her laboratory used nearly identical ammunition that was made with the same powder, the type of bullet, and the same powder load.


Click below to hear audio news about the trial (from KFI Radio, Los Angeles):

Feb. 22 (8 minutes).