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083117 herrera trial

Arturo Herrera, 31, of Lompoc is on trial at the Santa Maria Superior Court for the murder of his younger brother Enrique Herrera, who was found bloodied and dead on his bed on July 4, 2016 at their Hillside Ranch home on the 4300 block of West Ocean Avenue. Thursday's testimony focused on the defendant's phone activity the hours leading up to the alleged incident, and a third party's DNA evidence traced on the towel found at the crime scene. 

The trial for a former Marine accused of murdering his brother in their Lompoc home last year resumed Thursday, with testimony focusing on third-party DNA evidence left on a towel at the crime scene, and the defendant's web browser history.

Arturo Herrera, 31, is charged with murdering Enrique Herrera at their Hillside Ranch Home on West Ocean Avenue on July 4, 2016. Authorities have never found the weapon used to kill Enrique, who suffered severe head trauma and was found bloodied on his bed with a towel covering his body. 

Forensic serologist Phillip Hopper from the Serological Research Institute, kicked off Thursday's testimony for the defense, confirming that traces of a third-party's DNA were detected in three out of the five small cut pieces of the towel that were sent to his lab by the Department of Justice for further testing. Accompanying the pieces were reports from the DOJ that helped Hopper compare their findings while he looked for DNA that belonged to either brother.

Under defense attorney Sydney Bennett's questioning, he testified that even in the tiny pieces DNA showed the presence of a third party.

When prosecutor Brandon Jebens cross-examined Hopper, he acknowledged that he could only create DNA profile results from the samples he received from the DOJ. He didn't have any samples from the defendant or the victim, or from any other family members. Hopper also noted that in two of the samples where the third party's DNA was detected, there was not enough information to compare it to any family member. 

If a foreign [DNA] is considered minimal, or "weak," there would be no way to tell whether others used that towel earlier, Hopper said. 

Cellphone forensic expert Perry Kuhl testified that he was tasked with retrieving data from Arturo's Samsung phone after it was seized by detectives. He put together a 22,000 page extraction report that contained all of the phone's activity, including email login times, call logs and web browsing for the last eight months.

Kuhl pointed out that the owner of the phone had accessed a Yahoo account at 1 a.m. July 4, and again at 9:56 a.m. that same day but detected no activity until 1 p.m. 

Under Jebens' questioning, Kuhl noted that the owner of the phone often accessed a gore/shock site over the past several months where account users can view, access and upload violent murder videos. 

Kuhl testified that on July 4, Arturo's phone call log showed one missed call from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's dispatch center at 1:19 p.m., and two outgoing calls to his voicemail, one at 9:37 a.m. and again at 1:46 p.m. 

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One particular video, titled "SHOCKING! Man beaten with huge stone," was accessed July 4 at 3:16 and 3:20 a.m., according to the phone activity. The video depicted a man being beaten by a group of people and having a stone slammed on his head twice, killing him. 

Another video was accessed at 3:10 a.m. titled "Brutal: Killers unload gun on victim in front of his home." In June and March, the phone also accessed videos depicting a man shooting his brother then committing suicide, a man being hit on the head with a sledge hammer in the woods, and another video of a man stabbing another in broad daylight. 

Under Bennett's questioning, Kuhl said both videos had several thousand views, and that there was no telling how many users accessed videos on the site, or the number of accounts created. 

Kuhl further testified that Arturo's phone activity picked up 1,500 hits for the shock site out of 22,123 data entries. 

"That's just 6 percent of [activity on the site], isn't it?" Bennett asked, after she calculated the figures. "That means, 94 percent of the phone activity wasn't [on the site]?" to which Kuhl agreed. He also said that there was no way to confirm who actually accessed or viewed the videos on the phone. 

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210


Courts/Public Safety Reporter