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Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

Bullet fragment found under homicide victim was fired from recovered gun, expert testifies

By Geoff Liesik, Deseret News

Published: Wed, Aug. 20 5:35 p.m. MDT

 Defense attorney Bill Morrison, left, talks with his client, Jesse Anthony Saenz, on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, the first day of testimony in the murder case against the Fort Duchesne man. Saenz, 24, is accused of killing 22-year-old Elvis Zachary Olsen, a jailhouse acquaintance, on April 21, 2013. He is charged with murder, theft and possession of a dangerous weapon.

Defense attorney Bill Morrison, left, talks with his client, Jesse Anthony Saenz, on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, the first day of testimony in the murder case against the Fort Duchesne man. Saenz, 24, is accused of killing 22-year-old Elvis Zachary Olsen, a jailhouse acquaintance, on April 21, 2013. He is charged with murder, theft and possession of a dangerous weapon.

(Geoff Liesik, Deseret News)

VERNAL — An expert in firearms examination testified Wednesday that the copper jacket from a .44 magnum cartridge found under a Roosevelt man's body was fired from the same gun police recovered when they arrested the Fort Duchesne man who is on trial for the killing.

Uintah County sheriff's detectives found a partially deformed copper jacket in the bloodstained grass under Elvis Zachary Olsen's body on April 21, 2013. The following day, authorities arrested Jesse Anthony Saenz in Arizona. He was driving Olsen's car and there was a .44 magnum inside the vehicle, according to testimony offered so far in a jury trial that began Monday.

Saenz, 24, is charged in 8th District Court with murder, a first-degree felony; theft, a second-degree felony; and possession of a firearm by a restricted person, a second-degree felony.

He is accused of shooting Olsen three times with a .44 magnum, though a motive for the killing has never been disclosed. The 22-year-old man's body was found face down in tall yellow grass about 100 feet from the Fort Duchesne house where Saenz's grandfather lived.

Utah State Crime Lab firearms examiner Justin Bechaver testified Wednesday that his analysis of the marks left on the copper jacket detectives found underneath Olsen matched the marks left on the copper jackets of three bullets he test-fired through the .44 magnum recovered when Saenz was arrested.

"In my opinion, this bullet was fired from this gun," Bechaver said.

On cross-examination, Bechaver said his analysis of the copper jacket took six days to complete. That included time for test firing, microscopic examination, confirmation of his findings by a second examiner and an administrative review of his final report.

Defense attorney Ryan Holtan asked whether the copper jacket was tested for blood evidence, since it was found in a patch of bloody grass. No such tests were performed because there was no blood on the item, Bechaver testified.

After court, Holtan said the prosecution's case against his client is based solely on circumstantial evidence.

"They have a gun, but it's not a smoking gun," he said. "They can't prove that it was our guy who did this."

Prosecutors have shown the jury a string of text messages between Saenz and Olsen on the day of the shooting that show Saenz asked Olsen for a ride to his grandfather's house in exchange for $20. Olsen, who met Saenz while they were both in the Uintah County Jail, agreed to give him a ride, the messages showed.

Data from a GPS-enabled ankle monitor that Saenz was ordered to wear as a condition of bail in a pending rape case, put him at his grandfather's house on the day Olsen died. Witnesses have testified that a .44-caliber handgun was missing from the house when it was searched shortly after Olsen's body was discovered.

A jury of six men and four women has been chosen to hear the murder case. Eight of the jurors will ultimately decide the case, with two serving as alternates. The trial is scheduled to run through Friday.

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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