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BILLINGS - Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday against triple-murder defendant Richard Covington.

After calling two final witnesses Wednesday morning, Deputy County Attorneys Rod Souza and Scott Twito ended their case against the man accused of killing three of his neighbors in 2006.

The final witnesses included an expert who said he found the DNA of one victim on music compact discs pawned by Covington after the murders, and a state crime lab firearms expert who said a bullet fragment recovered from another victim matched a pistol Covington allegedly stole.

Covington's public defenders, Randi Hood and Matthew Wald, will begin their case today morning. It is unknown if Covington will testify.

Covington is charged with three counts of deliberate homicide and a dozen other crimes related to the September 2006 deaths of Norman Leighton, Patti Hubbert and Gerald Morris. Leighton and Hubbert were found bound in their small apartment on South 28th Street by firefighters called to a report of smoke coming from the unit on Sept. 22.

Leighton had been beaten to death. Hubbert was suffocated. Both were bound by metal wire, duct tape and telephone cord.

Morris was reported missing the next day. His body was found Oct. 4 off Blue Creek Road about seven miles south of Billings by a highway worker. He had been shot in the back.

The state's final witnesses included Kevin Noppinger, the founder and director of a private lab in Florida that tests for DNA. Using a special test developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks, Noppinger said he was able to identify Covington's DNA profile on a pillow recovered from Leighton and Hubbert's apartment.

Noppinger also said he used what he described as "touch DNA" to find Hubbert's DNA on the music compact discs. He explained that DNA can be left behind on items touched by someone if that person has sweat or other body fluids on the fingers.

The evidence is important to prosecutors because the compact discs were found to have been pawned by Covington after the couple was found murdered. Leighton and Hubbert had accumulated a large collection of music discs, and earlier testimony showed that Covington pawned about 74 music discs shortly after the murders.

Travis Spindler, a firearms and tool mark expert with the Montana State Crime Lab, was the last witness called by prosecutors. He said tests showed that a bullet fragment found in Morris' neck was matched to a specific .44-caliber Magnum revolver. A previous trial witnesses said he bought the pistol from Covington just weeks after the murders. Another witness said the serial number on the gun showed it was bought by Leighton at a Billings store in December 2005.

Covington's trial began with jury selection on Feb. 8. It is expected to last into next week.

 

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