BLOOMINGTON — The opinion that a bloody palm print found on a pool cue was left by Donald Whalen is scientifically suspect, Whalen's lawyer argued Tuesday in a hearing on whether Whalen should get a new trial on murder charges in the 1991 death of his father.
Sitting at the defense table during the second day of hearings on his petition, Whalen shook his head several times as he listened to testimony from John Dierker, a retired fingerprint examiner who worked for the Illinois State Police crime lab.
Dierker acknowledged to defense lawyer Elliot Slosar that no further testing was done after April 17, 1991, on a palm print lifted from a piece of broken cue found near Bill Whalen's body. The victim was beaten and stabbed at what was then the Twenty Grand Tap in downtown Bloomington.
A week later, Dierker told Bloomington police he had located "a possible palm print" on the pool cue, but he required a better fingerprint sample in order to exclude Bill Whalen as the source of the print.
"I did not receive any of those additional prints from the police department," said Dierker.
The former crime lab examiner had contact during the investigation with former Bloomington Police Chief Randy McKinley, who was a crime scene technician at the time.
Slosar, an attorney with the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project, has raised questions on the veracity of McKinley's 1991 claim that he was a "certified fingerprint examiner." McKinley repeated the claim in his testimony on Monday, saying he believed the certification was provided by the Illinois State Police.
Dierker testified Tuesday that to his knowledge no such certification is available for police departments.
The retired lab worker went on to admit that he had not obtained a certification, which was available but not mandated for fingerprint examiners, in 1991.
During Donald Whalen's November 1991 trial, Dierker told jurors that no one other than the younger Whalen could have left the palm print.
But the state crime lab did not compare prints from Robert McElvaney, a bar patron considered a suspect, or about 20 other people whose prints police had in connection with the case. The police's focus on Whalen as a suspect led to a brief investigation and pressure on the crime lab to return incriminating evidence, according to the defense.
Former McLean County prosecutor Teena Griffith told Dierker in 1991 she "felt no need at this time to compare anyone other than Don Whalen and the victim," said Dierker.
Court-ordered fingerprint tests conducted in 2012 identified a male whose print was found on a blood-stained glass door panel. Fifteen other prints have never been tested, contended Slosar.
Dierker's conclusion that blood was on the suspect's hand before the pool cue was picked up was disputed in testimony Tuesday afternoon from Washington fingerprint expert Michele Triplett.
The controversial prints may have been left on the pool cue before the murder, according to Triplett, a theory that fits with testimony from Donald Whalen's mother Colleen Whalen that he played pool during a visit to the bar the day of the slaying.
In cross-examination by Assistant State's Attorney Trevor Sierra, Triplett acknowledged that her comparison of the partial palm print with Donald Whalen's print could not exclude him as the source of the print that included about 10 percent of the suspect's palm.
Triplett also opined Tuesday that cooking grease and other substances containing proteins could have produced a reaction similar to blood during forensic testing on the evidence.
A Feb. 12 hearing has been set for defense testimony from Dr. Karl Reich, the lab scientist who performed testing on knives believed to have been used in the killing.