Renowned imagery analyst testifies at Red Deer murder trial

Photos found on suspect’s cell phone are of murder victim, says expert

The imagery expert who helped identify United States Marines in the iconic photograph of the Second World War flag-raising at Iwo Jima testified at a murder trial in Red Deer on Friday.

Michael Plaxton is a forensic video and photo analyst with the Hamilton Police Service. He had been asked by RCMP investigators to help identify a young woman in two photographs that police had obtained from the smartphone of murder suspect Nathan Michael Desharnais.

The two cellphone photos only included a woman’s naked torso in the frame, not her face. Paxton was asked to compare these images to two police autopsy photos of murder victim Talia Meguinis to see if they could be of the same person.

The body of Meguinis, a mother of three from Calgary, was thrown into a recycling bin in February 2012. Her remains were discovered when a Red Deer recycling truck was unloading at a depot in Red Deer.

Desharnais, 28, of Red Deer, stands charged with second-degree murder and interfering with human remains. He’s being tried by Justice E. J. Simpson in a trial without a jury.

In a voir dire held to test the admissibility of evidence, Plaxton told Crown Prosecutor Ed Ring that Adobe Photoshop was used to enhance the lighting in the digital photos and to bring out details — not to take anything away from the original images.

After examining moles on the female torsos, a cesarean scar on the woman’s stomach, stretch marks, and unknown “dark marks” on the left side of her neck, Plaxton concluded all of the photos are of the same person.

He said it’s “not plausible” that two different women would have the same-looking markings in identical places. Even after laying photos over each other, like a transparency, Plaxton added, “it’s quite remarkable, in my mind, how well (the markings) line up.”

He also identified a piece of blanket seen under the woman in the cellphone photos as matching a blanket police connected to Meguinis.

Plaxton is an expert in visual imagery analysis, who’s worked with the Canadian Forces and various court cases. Most famously, his private company was contracted to help resolve the controversy over the soldiers’ identities in the famous photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima.

Plaxton discovered the military had misidentified a couple of the Marines in the picture. As a result, he said names were changed in the Smithsonian archives as well as Arlington Cemetery.

Earlier on Friday, civilian RCMP employee Don Chi Tang Lee, who was asked by investigators to pull data from the smartphone seized from Desharnais after his arrest, was questioned by defence lawyer Patty MacNaughton.

Lee was asked if he knew the cellphone was not obtained with a search warrant. He responded that he only learned some time later, through an email sent by a police commander, that search warrants should be established before data is withdrawn.

Simpson must decide in this voir dire whether to consider cell phone evidence in the trial.

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