Home » Case Study » A Shot in the Dark Forensic Files: Martin and Earnestine Case Study

A Shot in the Dark Forensic Files: Martin and Earnestine Case Study

A Shot in the Dark forensic file case

Summary of Martin and Earnestine Forensic Files Case

Martin Frias was a Mexican immigrant who moved to the American state of Wyoming in 1979 in the hopes of a better future. He soon married Earnestine Perea, a divorcee with a daughter, and had two children of their own.

They went on to live in a rented mobile home on the edge of Wheatland, Wyoming. They often fought, and both were sleeping separately.

Events on Night Earnestine Perea Died

  • On the 5th of July, 1984, Earnestine was out all day with her children and returned drunk at 10:30 pm.
  • Martin put the children to sleep while Earnestine slept in the bedroom of the couple. Martin went to sleep on the sofa bed in the living room.
  • At 1 am Martin was woken up by the sound of one of his children crying for their mother. On checking in and switching on the light he found Earnestine on her back with blood on her stomach and a rifle gun near her.
  • Martin called 911 and reported that his wife was shot.

Martin’s Statement that Raises a Suspicion

Martin initially claimed that he was not at home that night, but he was soon caught in his own lie.

But why he lied? Because police knew he often beat her wife. There were many previous domestic violence complaints made by Earnestine against Martin. He believed if he said the truth police might frame him for his wife’s death.

He later admitted that he was at home that night. He also admitted that he didn’t hear any gunshots. However, he mentioned that there was a sound like a twig breaking at some point at night, which he ignored and fell back asleep.

There were no signs of breaking and entering that made Martin a prime suspect with a motive.

Common Question Raised in the Forensic Files A Shot in the Dark Case

The following questions are made and answered with the information that was listed in the videos including The Battle to Free An Innocent Man from The New Detectives and Forensic Files.

1. What was the first verdict for Martin Frias?

Seeing the circumstances, Martin Frias was the prime and the only suspect in the death of his wife, Earnestine Perea. He had a history of domestic abuse and she was rumored to have been out drinking with her guy friends on the day of her death.

The prosecutor theorized that they fought at night which ended with Martin shooting Earnestine with his hunting rifle. This open-and-shut case acquitted Martin Frias of second-degree murder and convicted him of 25-35 years in prison.

2. How was it proven that the shot was made from behind?

The wound on the abdomen was much larger than that at the back which was about half an inch in size. This indicated that the abdomen wound was the exit wound.

Autopsy results confirmed this as the bullet seems to have entered from the back, struck a vertebra, and exited from the abdomen. The inside of the front of her blouse had blood, tissue, bone, and lead fragments which are all expected in an exit wound.

Furthermore, there were no traces of GSR found in either wound that suggested it was shot from a distance of 3 feet.

3. How did Robert Moxley and Robert Lantz help the case?

Robert T. Moxley was the public defender assigned to Frias. He found out that the pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Earnestine was not competent to handle forensic cases which formed the base of an appeal for a retrial.

Dr. Robert Lantz is an independent gunshot residue expert. He checked Earnestine’s blouse under a scanning electron microscope- X-ray emission (SEM-XRE) and found that the front of the blouse had a greater amount of gunshot residue. This spread to the back with the bullet passing through the body.

4. What evidence favored the retrial of Frias?

Robert T. Moxley showed proof that Earnestine was suicidal and had committed dozens of suicide attempts in the past.

Dr. Robert Lantz showed that the front of Earnestine’s blouse had gunshot residue using SEM-XRE, an advanced technology for detecting gunshot residue.

This questioned the reliability of the previous chemical color test methods that were performed by the state lab which was also the basis of the conviction of Frias. Both favored the retrial of Frias.  

5. How did Dr. Harry Hollien help the case in determining that Frias did not hear the sound of Firing?

Dr. Harry Hollien, an acoustic expert conducted a simulation experiment. A high-powered 300-magnum hunting gun, like the one used in the death, was used for testing.

He concluded that on shooting from a distance of 3 feet in the open, the gun makes a louder sound of about 110-120 decibels. When the same gun is shot with tight contact with fabric and stomach similar to the blouse worn by Earnestine, the gunshot sound is muffled.

It almost sounds like kicking furniture, which explains Frias’s report of hearing a “breaking twig” sound that night.

6. What were the two theories at the retrial of A Shot in the Dark Case?

Theory 1: Against Frias: That night Earnestine and Frias got into a fight where he tugged her jeans from behind, ripping the zip and button. She fell to the ground to the face. While she was getting up, he shot her from behind. The force of the bullet caused her to twist and fall on her back.

Theory 2: In Support of Frias: Earnestine committed suicide by holding the rifle upside down against her stomach and pulling the trigger with the other hand. And then fell on her back.

7. What was the evidence that supported that the shot was from the front not from a distance on the back?

  • Gunshot residue: The front of the blouse showed more gunshot residue under the SEM-XRE.
  • Absence of blood and tissue on muzzle: Experts questioned that close contact will leave blood and tissue on the muzzle which it did not.
  • Larger abdomen wound: In close contact, the gases and soot will bloat the abdomen and release through the entry wound, enlarging it. This will also explain the ripped jeans.
  • Blood spatter: Analysis shows that Earnestine was sitting when the shooting happens.

8. What was the description/opinion of Judy Bunker in blood spatter analysis?

Judy Bunker studied the blood spatter on the wall formed 18 inches above the floor. She explained that this kind of spatter will occur if Earnestine was sitting on the floor with the gun to her stomach rather than if she were standing up.

Additionally, if she twisted and fell, as the prosecutor said, there will be more blood spatter, which was not the case. There was also no blood spatter from Earnestine being shot from behind.

9. Who were the experts in the case and what was the evidence that helped Frias win the case?

A. Evidence and Expert Against Martin Frias

In the first trial, the forensic evidence was examined by the state laboratory. The evidences against Frias were:

  • Firas’s fingerprints on gun,
  • Lack of gunshot residue found on the body,
  • History of domestic abuse, and
  • Lack of alibi
  • Post-mortem report:
    • The shot was made from a distance of 3 feet
    • Entry wound in the back, not the abdomen
    • The second autopsy after exhumation by Dr. Charles Petty concluded the same that the entry wound in the back.

B. Evidences and Experts in Support of Frias

ExpertEvidenceOpinion
Dr. Robert LantzGunshot residue on the blouseAbdomen with entry wound.
Dr. Harry HollienAcoustic expertGun was shot in close contact with the fabric and stomach that muffled the gunshot sound.
Judy Bunker, Blood Spatter ExpertBlood spatter analysisEarnestine shot herself in the stomach while sitting on the floor.
Dr. Vincent DemaioHigh-velocity gunshot wound expertAbsence of blood and tissue on the muzzle in close contact wounds can be explained by the presence of clothing.
Robert Moxley, Public DefenderTheorized the suicide conceptFingerprints on the scope can be explained when the gun was held to the stomach upside down.

10. What were the results of the second trial?

Earnestine’s death was declared a suicide and Martin Frias was released after nearly 3 years of falsely being acquitted. He now is an American citizen, living in southern California and fighting for the custody of his children who were living with Earnestine’s mother. 

Is Martin Frias Really Innocent? My Opinion

Going through the facts, I believe, Martin Frias did not kill his wife and he is innocent. This argument is supported by a number of scientific evidences like the presence of gunshot residue on the front of her blouse, her fingerprint on the scope of the gun, and blood spatters analysis stating she was sitting.

Additionally, if the gun was shot from a distance of 3 feet like the prosecutor suggested, the loud sound would have woken up the kids immediately. Earnestine also has a history of mental illness and suicide attempts.

I believe, that night when she was drunk and after meeting her friends, she was tired of her problems in life and marriage, and decided to end it for good.

References:

  • The Battle to Free An Innocent Man [Youtube]
  • Forensic Files Season 7, Episode 9: A Shot in the Dark
  • Scientific and Legal Applications of Bloodstain Pattern by Stuart H. James [Google book]
  • Defense Law Journal, Volume 42, Pg-206

Read More: