Thomas Clark trial: Expert witnesses tie rape and murder suspect’s DNA and cell phone to crime scene

Crime

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On day two of the Thomas Clark murder and rape trial, a DNA expert with the Virginia Department of Forensic Science testified that Clark’s DNA “cannot be eliminated” as a match to DNA found on Suzanne Fairman’s body, in addition to DNA found on several items at the crime scene.

Scientists explained that they won’t declare that DNA matches with 100% certainty. Instead, they will “eliminate” a person’s DNA if it’s too unlikely to be a match. If it’s more likely the person’s DNA does indeed match the sample, scientists will say the person “cannot be eliminated as a DNA contributor.”

In addition to samples taken from Fairman’s body, Clark “cannot be eliminated as a DNA contributor” on several items found in the bathroom where Fairman died, including the handle of a steak knife likely used to hold Fairman at knifepoint. She lived alone.

Clark faces first-degree murder, rape, and abduction with intent to defile charges after Fairman was found dead, face-up in the bathtub of her Tanlgewood road home on May 9, 2019. Clark had been hired as a contractor by Fairman around the time she was killed.

According to family, before the victim died, she told the contractors that she wasn’t happy with the work done on her deck and asked them to fix it. Ultimately, they came back and corrected the work.

Fairman was found dead shortly after that.

The trial began at the John Marshall Courthouse on Monday. During opening arguments, prosecutors described what happened as “every woman’s worst nightmare.” Jury selection ultimately took more than three hours.

On Tuesday, prosecutors rested their case around 5:15 p.m. after calling more than a dozen witnesses to testify. Witnesses included a medical examiner, who exposed more about the brutality of the crime and how Fairman died by getting strangled.

“Every layer of muscle in that neck was bloody,” said the medical examiner, who added that something must have been placed far into Fairman’s neck to damage the base of her tongue. It was a tear-jerking testimony for some jurors and Fairman’s family watching and listening in the courtroom.

During testimony Tuesday, prosecutors revealed that during a phone call while in jail, Clark mentioned details of how the victim was left. These were details that detectives said they hadn’t told him or released to the public, specifically that Fairman was submerged in water. The detectives who interviewed Clark after the crime testified that they only told Clark that Fairman “had been murdered.”

The suspect also said that he did not have a romantic relationship with Fairman and only had sexual encounters with his girlfriend, who he lived with.

Also among those testifying Tuesday was an FBI cellular analysis expert who reviewed both the victim and the suspect’s cell phone records from the weeks leading up to the murder. According to the expert, cell phone tower records place Clark’s cell phone in Fairman’s neighborhood two different times that he didn’t tell police about, including the exact time frame in which she would have been killed.

During testimony, a medical examiner said Fairman would have been killed any time between 2:30 a.m. on May 8 to 6:30 p.m. on May 9. The cellular analysis expert said a cell phone tower picked up Clark’s phone in the victim’s neighborhood between 3 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. on May 9, the night she was found.

The defense, Ali Amirshahi, tried to discredit that point by questioning if the cell phone data is accurate and suggested that someone else could have been using Clark’s phone. Lending his phone to a friend is something Amirshahi said Clark frequently did.

On May 14, the suspect told police “there’s no way” his DNA is near her body. Two days later on May 16, the suspect told investigators that he hadn’t been back to Fairman’s home since finishing the contractor work “at least two and a half weeks” prior.

“I think you did go back” the RPD detective said in the interview.

During testimony on Tuesday afternoon, a forensic scientist testified that Thomas Clark’s DNA “couldn’t be eliminated” as a match to DNA found on several items at the crime scene, including Fairman’s underwear, a sample taken from her body, and a bandana. Clark had admitted that he left a bandana at her house when working on the home.

A bloody knife and glove were also found in the bathroom. Prosecutors have not tied the knife to any of Fairman’s injuries, but DNA experts confirmed that it is very likely the blood on the knife is Fairman’s. Detectives also said that she was at some time held at knife point.

During the trial, Amirshahi has repeatedly questioned the accuracy of several testimonials, including how the cell phone data was collected and if DNA could have been cross-contaminated during sampling. It’s not clear how the defense attorney plans to defend his client. He hasn’t had a chance to call witnesses but will do so on Wednesday morning.

“Clark deserves a fair trial here,” he told the jury during opening statements, adding “there’s no doubt that she was murdered, a horrible crime occurred… The question is who did it? Are you convinced beyond reasonable doubt that he did it?”

When Fairman was found, a laptop, journal, and cup of steeping tea were sitting out in her kitchen. On Tuesday, prosecutors rested their case by having Scott Fairman, the victims’ son, read one of her journal entries aloud for the jury.

“I’m most appreciative of my life and my family. My safe house,” Scott Fairman read.

Amirshahi then made a motion to strike the three charges, which prosecutors argued against and the judge ultimately denied.

According to online records, Clark has a lengthy criminal history, including a rape conviction in Alexandria in 1988. 

The trial will continue on Wednesday morning.

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