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DNA links neighbor to ’98 killing of young girl, experts testify

SHARE DNA links neighbor to ’98 killing of young girl, experts testify

SALT LAKE CITY — On Tuesday, witnesses testified about the last time they saw Anna Palmer, who may have killed her and how her mother found the 10-year-old girl dead on her front porch.

On Wednesday, deputy chief medical examiner Edward Leis detailed the girl's extensive injuries and Dan Hellwig, a DNA analyst, explained how evidence taken from the girl's fingernails pointed to Matthew John Breck, 32.

"One in 11 million" is the lowest probability that the DNA belongs to anyone other than Breck, and Hellwig said that is based on the "most conservative" estimate.

Breck is facing charges of capital murder and aggravated sexual abuse of a child, first-degree felonies, and child abuse, a second-degree felony, in connection with the Sept. 10, 1998, slaying.

If convicted, the man could face the death penalty.

Wednesday was the second day of a preliminary hearing in 3rd District Court on the evidence in the case. At the end of witness testimony, Judge Judith Atherton will determine whether there is enough probable cause for the man to stand trial for Anna's death.

Nancy Palmer spoke of how she found her daughter on the porch of her home. She said it was all but apparent to her that her daughter was dead.

Leis said there were several stab wounds to the girl's neck. One severed her jugular vein, causing her to bleed to death. Another pierced her spinal cord, an injury that would have paralyzed her from the chest down. He said he couldn't determine which injuries were sustained first.

"They could have all been inflicted in a very short time," Leis said.

Anna's killing went unsolved and became one of the city's most prominent cold cases. Investigators at the time were frustrated by the lack of witnesses, despite the fact that the slaying took place during the day near a busy intersection. An $11,000 reward was offered and numerous leads were received, but none led to an arrest.

It was DNA technology that finally linked Breck to the crime. The then-19-year-old was living in Anna's neighborhood at the time of her death.

Hellwig said an initial test was done on the DNA under the girl's fingernails sometime before 2007 and showed there were definitely two different DNA profiles. One was clearly Anna's. The second profile went unidentified until 2009 when Breck's DNA was tested. He was a match on two separate tests.

"If you were to take known DNA from Anna Palmer and known DNA from Matthew Breck and put them in a test tube, you'd get the same results?" prosecutor Vincent Meister asked.

"Yes, actually," Hellwig replied.

In a police interview, Breck denied even knowing who Anna was, much less having contact with her. A scheduling conference has been set for June 17. At that time, a half-day hearing will be scheduled to conclude the preliminary hearing.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam