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Crime & Courts

Testimony contested at armed robbery trial

Eric Bernard, 31, is on trial for armed robbery in connection with the 2009 holdup of Associated Bank in DeKalb.
Eric Bernard, 31, is on trial for armed robbery in connection with the 2009 holdup of Associated Bank in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Jasmen Cunningham said Wednesday that Eric Bernard was in her Northern Illinois University dorm room putting on make-up the night before Associated Bank in DeKalb was robbed.

Cunningham testified that Bernard spent the night in her room, and the next day, Nov. 11, 2009, she drove Bernard and Michael King, both of Chicago, to the bank and surrounding area “to look for an escape route.”

“I followed [Bernard’s] directions on the back and side streets of that area,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham’s testimony was the highlight of the prosecution’s case Wednesday in the armed robbery trial for Bernard, 31, of Chicago, who is accused of stealing more than $6,000 from Associated Bank at gunpoint. He could face between six and 30 years in prison if convicted.

On cross-examination, Bernard’s defense lawyer, Dan Transier, raised the point that Cunningham has recanted her testimony before. In April 2010, she provided two written affidavits in which she recanted everything she told police about her involvement in the robbery.

“Your initial involvement with the case was untruthful,” Transier said. “Only after you were caught in a lie, you changed your story.”

The DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office had an agreement with Cunningham under which she would have received 18 months’ probation for the armed robbery charge pending against her in exchange for her testimony. When she recanted, she broke the agreement.

“I was scared of what was going to happen to me and my child,” Cunningham said.

King, 30, of Chicago, was found guilty and sentenced to 23 years in prison by DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert in 2011.

Cunningham said she and Bernard, who have a child together, talked about the bank robbery the day before it occurred, but she didn’t detail what they talked about. After their bank visit, Cunningham said she drove Bernard and King home to Chicago.

After the robbery, Cunningham testified that Bernard talked to her about DNA evidence.

“He talked to me about the T-shirt, weapon and the wig,” Cunningham said. “He told me he threw it out on the side of the road.”

Harris said the testimony Cunningham gave Wednesday was truthful. Cunningham said Bernard told her to write the affidavits.

Witnesses at the bank testified Tuesday that one of the robbers appeared to be wearing makeup, and that one of them was wearing a wig with dreadlocks.

When suspected evidence was found in a bag on North Fifth Street and taken to Illinois State Police for testing, there were calibration issues with a machine used for DNA testing. The machine was about a month past due for calibration, which Transier said made it inaccurate during his cross-examination.

“The purpose of calibration is to ensure reliability of the machine,” Transier said.

But Nicole Werkheiser and Blake Aper, forensic scientists with Illinois State Police, said numerous tests were done to ensure the results were accurate and that control tests done during the time calibration was past due passed.

“I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary,” Werkheiser said. “All of my controls were appropriate and as expected.”

Werkheiser said Bernard’s DNA was found on the wig was mixed with other DNA from at least two others but that Bernard had a major profile, meaning his DNA was present in larger amounts.

Transier argued during cross-examination that since the evidence was mashed up in a bag, DNA could have been transferred from different clothing.

Bernard’s case continues at 9 a.m. today.

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