TAYLOR COUNTY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Day one in the trial for the murder of Abilene realtor Tom Niblo continued with the questioning of a forensics expert, a detective, and the owner of a home security system, but none of the witness testimony so far has connected the suspect to the crime.
Tuesday’s afternoon session began with the Abilene Police Department’s forensics expert Diana Arndt, who is a civilian employee. She’s typically called to photograph and process evidence at crime scenes, which is then either analyzed internally or sent off to a lab.
Arndt testified that her team took extensive photographs of the interior and exterior of the home where Niblo was shot and killed in bed the morning of December 12, 2016, as well as photographs of the backyard of a neighbor’s house and a creek that backs up to the Niblo property.
Many of these photographs were presented to the jury, as Arndt described what was being shown. Several photos of the area at the side of the Niblo property leading down to the creek depicted what Arndt and her team believed to be footprints in the mud. The photos also showed disturbances in the leaves on the ground where someone possibly used a makeshift trial to climb down to the edge of the creek.
Off to the side of the trail, there was a large machete stuck in the creek bank that Arndt and her team processed for evidence.
Arndt also processed the entire Niblo home, taking swabs for DNA and dusting for fingerprints in any location that could have been involved in the murder. She also processed several shell casings and some bullets that were found at the scene.
Overall, Arndt and her team found 5 latent fingerprints from all the items and areas tested, and only one generated a match. This fingerprint was in a bedroom at the home separate from where Niblo was shot and killed ,and belonged to a contractor who was doing remodeling work.
None of the fingerprints were a match for murder suspect Luke Sweetser, who was Niblo’s brother-in-law.
Arndt said she took DNA swabs from several areas but never received information on the lab results because she was not the detective working the case. She only found out the fingerprint results because her team did the analysis themselves.
During the investigation, Arndt was also called to photograph and process evidence from a second scene connected to the crime – a large storage facility located off Mesquite Street, to which the entire Niblo family had access.
She was specifically called to document evidence from a safe at the warehouse, on which police executed two search warrants, but no evidence connected Sweester to the murder was found inside.
However, Arndt did help process two potential murder weapons during this time – a handgun that was found in a collection of firearms in Tom Niblo’s closet, as well as a handgun found at the Mesquite Street warehouse, both of which were 40 caliber weapons, which was the caliber of shell casings and bullets left at the scene.
Arndt says that she was notified of the forensic results of both guns and that neither were proved to be the murder weapon used in the crime.
14 cellphones, 7 desktops, 8 tablets, 5 laptops: APD asks for help with overwhelming electronic evidence
Next to testify was former Abilene Police detective Lynn Beard.
Beard initially responded to the crime scene on Woodridge Drive to do a drone flyover, with hopes of learning more about the how the killer entered and left the Niblo property.
The drone video was presented to the jury, showing a bird’s eye view of the Niblo home, neighborhood, and the stretch of Elm Creek that runs from behind the Niblo house and across South 14th Street.
In his testimony, Beard also described helping search the Niblo family warehouse on Mesquite Street, which held so many items, it took a lot of time and personnel from APD to clear.
Beard didn’t touch the case again until former police chief Stan Standridge asked him to do a comprehensive review in December 2017.
He then went over all the evidence again, including an overwhelming amount of electronic evidence stored on 14 cellphones, 7 desktops, 8 tablets, 5 laptops, CDs, flash drives, hard drives and more.
This evidence was so overwhelming, Beard says they reached out to the Office of the Attorney General for help.
Much of the electronic evidence was returned to APD with nothing of value found.
During his review of the case, Beard also tried to test a pair of boots found in Sweetser’s closet to a partial tread mark found on the door to the bathroom in the Niblo’s master suite. However, the tread mark on the door was not good enough to make any kind of comparison, so that attempt was inconclusive.
What doors were opened and when? Disarmed security system shows timeline morning of murder
Ending Tuesday’s testimony was Turner Cariker, who previously owned the business that installed a security system at the Niblo home on Woodridge Drive.
Cariker could not remember exactly when the system was installed but said it was before December 2016.
Niblo was a golfing buddy of Cariker’s, and Cariker said he “had a sense of urgency” when he asked for the installation.
The morning Niblo was shot and killed in bed, the alarm system was not on and active, meaning it was not being monitored and was not set to call police, but it was still logging events that took place in and around the home.
This log, which was generated by the security system, was presented to the jury as evidence.
It showed a door described as the “Den Door” opening and closing at 6:06 a.m. the morning of the murder, followed by motion in the hallway leading to the master bedroom at 6:07 a.m. (times are approximate and could be off by 60-90 seconds). Both the master bathroom exterior door and the den door were opened and closed within 60-90 seconds of each other at 6:13 a.m., with the event at the master bathroom door happening first.
Defense attorney Lynn Ingalsbe noted that the security system has a “glass break” function, which activates for loud noises, but there was no indication that it activated during the gunshots.
Cariker said he believed that gunshots should activate the “glass break” function, but he had never dealt with that question or scenario before.
When asked if Tom’s wife Cheryl Niblo had prior knowledge of the alarm system, Cariker testified that he had to download the app on her phone after the murder and show her how to use it.
The trial is set to resume Wednesday morning in Taylor County’s 350th District Court, where suspect Luke Sweetser is facing a Murder and Theft of Firearm charge.
Stick with BigCountryHomepage.com for extensive updates on the testimony and court proceedings.