Expert: Autopsy bullet was fired from recovered rifle

The bullet that killed Brandyn Preston was fired from the rifle recovered from a house where Derrick McElroy sometimes lived.

That determination came from Vic Murillo, a firearms expert with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, who testified at McElroy’s first-degree murder trial in Webster County District Court Friday.

McElroy, 28, is accused of shooting Preston, 19, at a bonfire party in Fort Dodge on May 8, 2011. The bullet, which was lodged in Preston’s spine, paralyzed him from the shoulders down.

Preston died eight months after the shooting.

The gun Murillo said was used to shoot Preston was recovered the day of the shooting from the Fort Dodge home of Percy “Ike” McElroy, Derrick McElroy’s grandfather.

Murillo said he was 100 percent sure the bullet came from the .22-caliber Ruger long rifle after comparing it to a test bullet fired from the same gun.

The bullets were matched in March 2012, but only after a second round of testing was done.

DCI ballistics technician Steve O’Brien had done the original test with lead bullets in May 2011. At the time, the bullet that struck Preston was still inside his body and couldn’t be removed.

The bullet was removed during Preston’s autopsy and sent to the DCI lab where Murillo discovered it was copper-plated, not simply a lead round-nosed bullet.

“I looked at individual characteristics on this bullet compared to the test,” Murillo said. “A lot of individual characteristics were very close, but not enough that I could make a positive identification.”

He repeated the firing tests using copper-plated ammunition, which allowed him to make an absolute determination, he said.

Murillo said the semi-automatic Ruger was designed to fire .22 long rifle ammunition.

“You could use a different ammunition, but it might not cycle (through the chamber) properly,” he said.

However, the bullet extracted from Preston was too heavy to have been either .22 short or .22 long ammunition.

Murillo used dummy rounds in court to demonstrate how a magazine could be loaded into the Ruger, allowing it to be fired 10 times in rapid succession.

Jurors also heard from Paul Bush, the supervisor for the DCI’s DNA unit, who said he swabbed the eyepiece on the rifle’s scope and the slide where the cartridge is placed into the chamber to be tested for any signs of DNA.

Those swabs were given to Dr. Sabrina Seehafer, DCI criminalist, who developed a DNA profile from the evidence found on the scope of the rifle.

In July 2011, Seehafer said she compared the DNA to that of Deangelo Foy, and said that although DNA consistent with his was found on the rifle, it did not match the DNA profile found on the scope of the rifle.

Investigators have said that Foy was a person of interest in the case; McElroy’s attorney has said Foy, not McElroy, fired the fatal shot.

When Seehafer received a DNA profile of McElroy in May 2012, she compared it to the evidence found on the scope.

It was consistent with McElroy’s DNA profile.

“The probability of finding this profile in a group of unrelated individuals chosen at random would be less than one out of 100 billion,” Seehafer said.

Under questioning from defense attorney Charles Kenville, Seehafer said there’s no way to tell when the DNA was left on the rifle.

Kenville also asked if it was possible that someone else could have put McElroy’s DNA on the scope.

Seehafer said that she couldn’t rule out secondary transfer; statistically it appears to occur, at most, 10 percent of the time.

Witness testimony will continue Monday at 9 a.m.