Dimond Courthouse in downtown Juneau, where the double murder trial against defendant Laron Carlton Graham is being held. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Dimond Courthouse in downtown Juneau, where the double murder trial against defendant Laron Carlton Graham is being held. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Expert witness discusses firearms forensics before jury

Acquaintance of victim also talks about last contact with her

A firearms and toolmarks examiner was certified as an expert witness in the trial for a 2015 double murder.

Robert Shem, a firearms examiner formerly with the Alaska Crime Laboratory in Anchorage, testified in the trial of Laron Carlton Graham, 42, who is facing two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Elizabeth Tonsmeire and Robert Meireis.

“I was given two fired bullets and two discharged cartridge cases and asked to analyze those,” Shem said from the witness stand in Juneau Superior Court.

The cartridges were from the same weapon, Shem testified on direct examination from prosecutor John Darnall. The unique pattern made by the indent on the primers of the two 10mm cartridges allowed him to determine what kind of handgun was used.

“They were fired from the same firearm and that firearm was either a Glock or an early Smith and Wesson Sigma,” he said.

An expert witness in hundreds of trials with nearly four decades of experience, Shem said he determined that the rounds had been fired from a weapon whose barrel rifling pattern matched either a Glock or a weapon he wasn’t familiar with that used a similar style of rifling. A rifling pattern is caused by the grooves in a gun barrel that spin the bullet as it travels down the barrel, spin-stabilizing the round significantly increasing its accuracy and range. The rifling pattern on the rounds found in Tonsmeire’s apartment is not one seen in any other weapons that he knew of, Shem said on cross examination from defense attorney Natasha Norris.

All of this was done in the absence of a murder weapon, which officers were not able to find.

[Juneau police officers testify about 2015 double murder]

Robert Holland, an acquaintance of Tonsmeire’s, also testified. Clad in a Lemon Creek Correctional Center jumpsuit, Holland talked about how he saw Meireis on Saturday morning, the day of the shooting, before taking the bus to his job at the Extended Stay Juneau by the airport. Meireis was visiting a neighbor who lived two doors down and invited himself into Holland’s place, Holland said. But Holland said he had to go to work, which he usually did at 1-1:30 p.m.

“I don’t know if I’d call us friends,” Holland said. “I sort of knew him from coming over. But I didn’t like him.”

Holland had been texting with Tonsmeire, whom he said seemed agitated in the days leading up to her death. Holland said she often asked him to stay over in her apartment when she wasn’t there. Holland said Tonsmeire had told him she didn’t like being alone, and that she was scared of something. That afternoon, she stopped responding to her phone, he said.

“I stopped getting texts earlier that day,” Holland said. This was Saturday afternoon. By this time, it was likely that Tonsmeire and Meireis were dead.

[Double murder trial shines light on Juneau drug scene]

Holland went by Tonsmeire’s apartment after getting off work around midnight. He said he saw Meireis’ vehicle parked in front of the apartment with a light and and door ajar.

“The driver door was open, it was parked at an angle, and the blinker was on,” Holland said.

Holland testified that he went and knocked on Tonsmeire’s door, and waited for a little bit, putting on a longer sleeved shirt to ward off the cold. After there was no response, he walked the quarter mile home to his own apartments. When he returned to the apartment the next day to check in on Tonsmeire, he found Elizabeth Tonsmeire’s father Kelly Tonsmeire there. Kelly Tonsmeire had discovered the bodies and called 911, he testified earlier at trial for the prosecution.

The trial will continue Thursday.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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