A nearly 30-year-old murder case will rest largely on DNA gathered at the home of the victim, Eleonora Knoernschild, and the reliability of that evidence, attorneys for the prosecution and defense told jurors Tuesday.
Knoernschild, 84, of the 1700 block of Sibley Street in St. Charles was found strangled and beaten in her home on Nov. 4, 1984, by her daughter, Doris Wines.
But no one was charged in the case until 2011. It was then that authorities said they linked the DNA to Brian McBenge, 52, and his brother, Cecil McBenge, 49. Both were charged with first-degree murder; Brian McBenge is currently on trial.
In opening arguments, Assistant Prosecutor Philip Groenweghe described the victim as being in ill health, requiring oxygen around the clock to sustain her 5-foot-1, 90-pound frame.
Knoernschild was a widow and lived alone in the modest home where she raised her family with her late husband, the former postmaster for St. Charles.
Wines, who at the time lived five houses from her mother, noticed signs of a break-in when she brought her motherâ€™s newspaper to her door.
Knoernschild was discovered on the floor of her bedroom, with debris ransacked from drawers piled on top of her. She was beaten in the face, head and torso, suffering multiple fractured ribs. She was strangled with her bedspread, Groenweghe said.
â€śShe was viciously, savagely, brutally murdered,â€ť Groenweghe said.
Community outrage over Knoernschildâ€™s killing spurred the founding of the St. Charles CrimeStoppers program.
McBengeâ€™s attorney, Scott Rosenblum, agreed that Knoernschildâ€™s death was â€śan awful, awful homicide.â€ť
But he said that the emotions felt by those working the terrible scene had led to mistakes.
Rosenblum said the DNA collected was contaminated by police who had no training in the proper techniques. Further, the silver nitrate used to dust for fingerprints back then could have led to a transfer of DNA, he said.
In addition, a lab that was used to process some of the evidence was not accredited, Rosenblum said, and was â€śa den of contamination.â€ť
But Groenweghe said the profile for the DNA collected only matched one in 741,000 people. Further, McBenge had dated Knoernschildâ€™s granddaughter and knew Knoernschild kept money hidden in a kitchen drawer in a baking powder can.
Evidence taken from a burglary at Knoernschildâ€™s home four years before her murder included fingerprints on the refrigerator that matched McBenge and other similarities to the murder scene, Groenweghe said.
Rosenblum said the prints were easily explained away by McBengeâ€™s relationship with Knoernschildâ€™s granddaughter. The two often visited Knoernschild and sometimes ate there, he said.
The trial, in Circuit Judge Nancy Schneiderâ€™s courtroom, is expected to continue the rest of the week.
Cecil McBenge is scheduled to go on trial for the murder on Sept. 22.