Samantha Josephson was dead when her body was placed in a remote wooded area in Clarendon County in March 2019, a State Law Enforcement Division crime scene analyst testified Thursday.
“Someone had to put here there,” Lt. Todd Schenk told a Richland County jury of seven women and five men on the fourth day of the murder trial for Nathaniel Rowland, 27, who is accused of abducting Josephson, a University of South Carolinia student, from Columbia’s popular Five Points nightclub area, killing her and then dumping her body in rural Clarendon County.
“Everything kind of added up to it appeared she had been dragged (there),” Schenk testified. For example, he said, there was no sign of a struggle or bleeding in the forest and field area where she was found.
Schenk, who heads up SLED’s crime scene evidence unit, also told the jury about a second suspected crime scene he and a fellow analyst visited, just hours after leaving the site where Josephson’s body was found.
That second scene was a black Chevolet Impala with a blood-drenched interior that Columbia police officers had stopped near Five Points on March 30, 2019, one day after Josephson was abducted and killed. Rowland, the car’s driver, was arrested. That night police had been stopping black Chevrolet Impalas in Columbia because video surveillance footage showed that Josephson had entered such a vehicle in front of the Five Points night Club Bird Dog about 2 a.m. on March 29, according to evidence in the case.
Under questioning by prosecutor Daniel Goldberg, Schenk, the prosecution’s 17th witness, took the jury on a scientific but sometimes macabre journey of the dozens and dozens of pieces of evidence taken from the outdoor scene in the woods and the inside of the Chevrolet Impala.
In more than two hours of testimony by Schenk that began Wednesday afternoon, Schenk explained to the jury how SLED crime scene analysts are trained and what they do at the crime scene, starting with donning gloves to prevent contamination and taking dozens and dozens of photographs from a distance from all points of view and ending with close-ups of areas of interest.
“We want to show the crime scene as it is without walking on it,” Schenk testified.
Schenk testified he made detailed notes and diagrams of the scene and noted the weather in the woods at 6 pm when they arrived on March 29 — “clear and 75 degrees.”
At the scene, fellow SLED analyst Dalila Cirencione took photographs, Schenk testified. They both observed what appeared to be numerous stab wounds on Josephson’s foot, hand, neck, back and head. They noted Josephson’s fingernails appeared to be broken, a torn sandal on her foot, the disheveled state of the clothes she had on and the position of her body, hands and feet. They took her fingerprints and made swabs to gather her DNA. They ran a metal detector around the scene.
They did not move the body. “We do not touch the victim until the coroner gives us the OK,” Schenk testified.
‘Significant blood’ found in the Impala
After being with Josephson’s body some six hours, the two SLED agents rode back to Columbia, reaching SLED headquarters in the early morning hours of March 30.
Within hours, they got a request to come to another crime scene, this one near Five Points where Rowland had been pulled over by Columbia police officer Jeffrey Kraft, who had spotted the black Chevrolet Impala.
At that scene, on Saluda Avenue, Schenk again began to take notes and document the scene , starting with the weather — “57 degrees Fahrenheit and clear.”
In the Impala, Schenk testified, he found three cell phones and saw the back seat area had child-proof locks and windows that were controlled by a button accessible to the driver, but not to anyone in the back seat.
Suspected blood was in numerous places inside the car — on the back of a front headrest, on the steering wheel, on the inside window, the center console, the back seat and in the trunk. There was also what appeared to be a footprint on the inside of one of Impala’s rear windows, Schenk testified.
In the trunk there was “significant” blood along with a roll of duct tape and a black beanie with the words “full blood” on it, he testified. The beanie had a hole in it and could “be used as a mask,” Schenk testified.
Schenk testified crime scene technicians like him are supposed to gather all evidence that might help the case, and then it is up to others to decide the significance of the evidence.
Schenk did not directly link any of the evidence to Rowland or Josephson — that is a task for later prosecution scientific and medical witnesses who are expected to testify that the blood in the Impala was Josephson’s.
Witnesses have already linked Rowland to the Impala and testified that he grew up in the rural Clarendon County area where the body was found and was intimately familiar with the area.