Hearing In Calif. Involves Tests Of DNA From Lake Waco Triple Murder Case

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CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Calif.-Two California scientists who refused to show up in Waco for a court hearing are due in court in California Tuesday to explain why they skipped the appearance.

Edward Blake and Alan Keel are scheduled for a contempt of court hearing Tuesday in Contra Costa County, Calif. over their refusal to show up for a court hearing last March in Waco.

The two men, owners of a California DNA lab, tested samples of DNA that local attorney Walter S. "Skip" Reeves believes might lead to the release of Anthony Melendez, who is the only surviving defendant in the murders of three teenagers in 1982 at Lake Waco.

In July the ex-wife of the former prosecutor who won a conviction against Melendez for his alleged role in the grisly murders of the three teens contacted a California criminalists group and asked it to investigate why a California DNA lab is refusing to turn over its findings in the case.

Bernadette Feazell, the ex-wife of former McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell, asked the California Association of Criminalists to conduct an investigation of Edward T. Blake, owner of a California DNA lab, who has refused to turn over the lab's findings in relation to the triple murder case.

In a letter to Blake dated July 24, CAC ethics committee chairwoman Alicia Lomas-Gross said the group was initiating an investigation into the lab and its practices and will complete a report on or before Oct. 22, unless a 60-day extension is granted.

A woman who answered the telephone Tuesday at the California group's office said Lomas-Gross was out of the office until Friday.

Reaves has been representing Melendez for more than 10 years.

Bernadette Feazell said in a telephone interview she petitioned the California regulatory group to begin the investigation because Reaves had not done so.

"But why is it me doing this," Feazell said. "Why isn't (Reaves) doing it?"

In an e-mail sent from the president of CAC to Feazell, Kevin Andera wrote, "Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention.

"While both Edward Blake and Alan Keel are members of the California Association of Criminalists, our organization has no authority to compel their appearance in court or the release of samples from their lab.

"However, if you believe that either of these members have acted in violation of our Code of Ethics we could begin an ethics investigation into the matter."

Reaves arranged for a private lab in California to do DNA testing, but that lab now refuses to allow them to transfer testing to another facility where different methods could produce better results.

On Jan. 6 a Waco district judge cleared the way for Reaves to proceed with an effort to have further DNA tests performed on evidence collected during the investigation of the slayings of three teenagers.

Lab owners Blake and Keel were subpoenaed to testify in the January hearing, but neither showed up, Reaves said.

State District Judge Matt Johnson issued an order of attachment for both men who failed to show up but unless one or both of them return to the court's jurisdiction, that order can't be enforced.

On the 30th anniversary of the murders Reaves said the reason behind the lab's refusal to turn over evidence is "a million-dollar question."

Reaves said more money, perhaps as much as $40,000 more, might convince the lab to turn over the evidence they have.

Reaves has said he hopes the evidence will ultimately clear Melendez and perhaps identify the real killer.

Melendez and his brother, Gilbert, pleaded guilty to taking part in the July 13, 1982 murders of Raylene Rice, 17, Jill Montgomery, 17, and Kenneth Franks, 18, in what prosecutors said at the time was a murder-for-hire scheme gone wrong.

Fishermen found the bodies of the three teenagers the next day at Speegleville Park on Lake Waco.

They had been stabbed repeatedly and the two girls had been raped.

Melendez and his brother Gilbert were sentenced to two life terms after pleading guilty to charges stemming from the murders.

Gilbert Melendez died in prison in October 1998.

Spence, who prosecutors said was hired by Waco storeowner Muneer Mohammad Deeb to kill a female employee, Gayle Kelley, in order to collect on her insurance policy, but who mistook Montgomery for the woman and killed her and the other two teenagers in a case of mistaken identity, was executed in April 1997.

Spence was twice convicted of capital murder in trials in 1984 in Waco and the next year in Bryan.

After the first trial, the Melendez brothers agreed to a plea deal that would spare them from the death penalty in exchange for their testimony against Spence in the second trial.

They both later said they had nothing to do with the murders of the teenagers and pleaded guilty because they believed they would have been sentenced to death if they had gone to trial.

Deeb was also convicted and sentenced to death, but won a new trial and was acquitted in 1993.

He died in Dallas County in November 1999.