Defense attorney questions DNA evidence in 1993 murder case

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A day after an Isanti businessman was charged in a 1993 Minneapolis murder, the defense attorney is arguing authorities rushed to find their suspect.

Jerry Westrom is charged with second-degree murder of Jeanne Childs. Friday, Westrom was emotional during his 15-minute first appearance, struggling to spell out his name and provide the court with his address. About two dozen family members, including his wife and children, packed the public safety facility hearing room.

“They don’t have the evidence,” said Steve Meshbesher, Westrom’s defense attorney. “They admit in the complaint, if you read it that there are certain things under investigation right now.”

He questions the initial DNA evidence from a dirty, concession stand napkin that allegedly matched bodily fluids at the bloody 1993 crime scene in a south Minneapolis apartment tower. Childs, who was working as a prostitute at the time, was found stabbed to death.

“The evidence alleged in the complaint is so thin,” said Meshbesher. “There’s a thing in our country, the presumption of innocence. And it reeks all over this case."

According to the search warrant, investigators believed the suspect used a washcloth in the bathroom after killing Childs. During a case review in 2015, they found an unknown male DNA profile on the washcloth, items throughout the bathroom and also on Childs' comforter. Police also obtained barefoot impressions from the crime scene.

Near the end of last year, investigators used online genealogical family tree databases, which led them to believe Westrom was a suspect.

On Jan. 26, investigators went to a college hockey game in Wisconsin, which Westrom was attending. During the first period intermission, they watched Westrom eat and wipe his mouth with a napkin. After he threw out his trash, the investigators collected the items. A test on the napkin determined it contained a mixture of DNA, but a partial profile appeared to match the unknown male DNA found at the 1993 crime scene. 

Investigators filed a search warrant to collect Westrom's fingerprints, barefoot impressions and a DNA sample while he was in custody at Hennepin County Jail.

A judge set Westrom's bail at $500,000 with conditions, including remaining law abiding, no drugs or alcohol and to get court permission to leave Minnesota. He posted bail by Saturday morning.

Family members of Jeanne Childs also attended the court appearance.