November 2, 2021

An Unlikely Suspect

by Crime Show

Background show artwork for Crime Show

In 2012, a sleepy bedroom community experienced their first murder in almost 40 years. Police quickly figured out who committed the crime, but struggled to explain why he’d done it.

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Emma Courtland: Every once in a while, a case comes along that forces us to question everything we know about criminality. These cases change the way we look at, not just the cases that come after them, but all the cases that came before. And they compel us to ask ourselves: if we could be so wrong about this, what else might we be wrong about?

Emma: This case, for the people who know about it, is one of those cases. It happened in Monte Sereno, California, a sleepy bedroom community in Silicon Valley. It's one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country—and one of the safest. The city hadn't seen a murder in almost 40 years. And then, in November of 2012 ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP, 911 operator: 911.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, woman: Please send somebody here. My husband is dead. Probably somebody killed him. Quickly please.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, 911 operator: Do you need an ambulance?]

Emma: The victim's name was Raveesh Kumra. He was a multi-millionaire investor, and a father of two.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, woman: Probably.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, 911 operator: Okay. So is your husband breathing at all?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, woman: Also, I have no idea. My hands are tied. Please, my eyes are wrapped with something.]

Emma: She said she and her husband had been home when their house had been broken into by a group of men, but she couldn't say who or even how many of them there were. The couple had been blindfolded and gagged with duct tape through the whole thing. It wasn't until the men left, that she realized the house had been ransacked and robbed. And her husband had been killed.

Emma: It was huge news in the community, and there was speculation that the incident was gang related. But police were sparse about the details of their investigation. In fact, they said next to nothing about the case until a few weeks later when they announced that they had three suspects in custody. Their names and photos were released to the public and quickly plastered all over the news in the Bay Area.

Emma: All of the men that had been arrested were Black and in their 20s. All of them had priors. And at least one of them did have gang affiliations. But looking over their photos, one of the men instantly stood out. Identified only as Lukis Anderson from San Jose, this one man looked significantly older than the others—and tired. His hair was unkempt. His eyes appeared to be yellowing. And there seemed to be some kind of wound on his head. Nobody knew how the men were connected, but after their arraignment it was decided that they were going to be tried together with separate attorneys. Which is where Kelley Kulick enters the story.

Emma: And is it okay if we call you Kelley in the story?

Kelley Kulick: Oh, please do. Oh, gosh, yes.

Emma: Kelley's a deputy public defender for Santa Clara County.

Kelley Kulick: So I've done every type of case possible. But the last seven years was spent on homicides.

Emma: As a public defender, Kelley represents people who can't afford to pay for an attorney. So cases like Lukis's are assigned to her.

Kelley Kulick: So Lukis's case fell into my lap. So shortly after he was arraigned, I met Lukis in the county jail.

Emma: At that point, all Kelley knew about Lukis was that he was indigent—he'd have to be to qualify for a public defender—and that he was being charged with murder. But as for the police report and the evidence against him? Nothing. In homicide cases, all that stuff is sealed initially, even to the lawyers involved. And it can take a couple weeks to unseal it with petitions.

Kelley Kulick: So there wasn't a lot of information to provide me at the initial meeting. And quite honestly, when I first meet a client, I'm not looking for a detailed account of the facts, I'm looking to bond and make a connection with a client.

Emma: So that's what she did. In a small, sterile room in the Santa Clara County jailhouse, Kelley sat down with Lukis for the very first time. She asked him about his life and his family, his mental health and his criminal record. And almost immediately, something about Lukis's situation seemed off.

Kelley Kulick: His profile—and that's not to say that there's a profile, exactly, but it didn't quite fit.

Emma: First of all, the home invasion appeared to be gang related.

Kelley Kulick: He didn't have a gang history. And Lucas was significantly older than the other co-defendants, which also didn't seem to fit.

Emma: The other thing was that Lukis had a significant history of mental illness.

Kelley Kulick: Which also seemed to kind of go against what we would anticipate for this group of individuals who went to the home.

Emma: But also, on a more personal level, Kelley just thought Lukis seemed really sweet.

Kelley Kulick: Just the most endearing smile. He was just, as a client goes, someone you really wanted to work hard for.

Emma: Looking at Lukis Anderson, an unhoused man with a history of mental illness and alcoholism and no gang affiliations, it was hard not to wonder if he was really capable of doing the things he was accused of. But Kelley knows better than to make assumptions about her clients, so she told Lukis to sit tight. She said once the evidence is unsealed, we can start planning our defense.

Kelley Kulick: So we waited for the evidence to start to roll in.

Emma: But when the state unsealed its file, what she found was troubling. The case against Lukis Anderson wasn't just strong, it was damning. So damning that the question became not whether Lukis killed Raveesh Kumra, but why. Why was Lukis, this seemingly harmless, sweet man without any gang history or violent offenses on his record, why was he involved in a deadly home invasion?

Emma: It was a question that over the next four months would continue to stump both the defense and the prosecution. And the answer would cut right to the heart of everything they thought they knew.

Emma: I'm Emma Courtland. This is Crime Show.

Emma: In the last 30 years, crime scene investigations have changed significantly. Obviously, right? Back in the '80s and early '90s when DNA science was new, forensicists used to scour crime scenes looking for bodily fluids: drops of blood, specks of semen and errant strands of hair. Because these were thought to be the only things large enough to yield a DNA signature.

Emma: But then, right around the turn of the century, this one scientist, a researcher based in Australia, published a paper detailing this incredible observation he'd made about DNA. Something that now pretty much everyone knows.

Erin Lunsford: Everybody is shedding DNA.

Emma: That's not the Australian scientist. That's Detective Erin Lunsford. He led the investigation on this case. And what he's referring to here is something researchers call "Touch DNA."

Erin Lunsford: You're shedding DNA anywhere you go. It's just very small amounts.

Emma: According to one book about forensic DNA, the average person sheds enough skin cells to cover a football field every two minutes, but some people shed even more than that.

Erin Lunsford: It just depends on you and your body type, and how your body, you know, gets rid of its skin cells and things.

Emma: All of these skin cells are microscopic—way too small to see. And it takes fewer than a dozen of them to generate a complete DNA profile. And collecting them is as easy as swabbing a surface. And by surface, I mean, pretty much any physical object you encounter. So when you're dealing with a crime scene, every surface has the potential to tell the story of that crime—where the suspects went, what they did, how they did it and who was in the room when it happened. And that was what Erin Lunsford was thinking about the day he walked into the Kumra crime scene.

Emma: Lunsford had been called out to the house on at least a couple of occasions, but he'd never seen it look like this.

Erin Lunsford: Drawers were turned over. The kitchen-family room, stuff on the floor, chairs pushed out of the way.

Emma: It looked like the perpetrators had touched everything.

Erin Lunsford: Upstairs rooms were pretty much ransacked, stuff taken out and dumped over.

Emma: Lunsford walked through the house, taking note of what had and had not been taken. In the living room, the TV was still mounted on the wall. In the office, the computer was still on the desk. But all the jewelry, it seemed, had been taken from the bedroom. And in the kitchen, the body of Raveesh Kumra lay on the floor, surrounded by medical supplies from when the EMTs had tried and failed to revive him.

Emma: Kumra had been bound and gagged with duct tape, but it appeared to have been done quickly and sloppily. One of his arms was bound while the other was free. His fingers were splayed. And his nose had been taped shut. It was clear from the details, Kumra's death had not been intentional—he'd died by accidental asphyxiation. This was a robbery turned homicide.

Erin Lunsford: They obviously came in, they obviously tied up the victim. From there, they ransacked the house, took what they wanted and left.

Emma: There had actually been a string of these kinds of burglaries lately, perpetrated by a gang called The Money Team. The Money Team had a pattern of targeting rich Asian families, who they believed kept jewels and large sums of money inside their homes. But this was the first time someone ended up dead.

Emma: Lunsford directed his forensic team to carefully sweep through the mansion. They swabbed the door handles of ransacked rooms, and bagged items that looked out of place: a duffel bag, pieces of duct tape, a bunch of rubber gloves that had been left in the sink. As for Kumra's body, it too became a piece of evidence.

Erin Lunsford: Unfortunately, when someone passes away at a crime scene, they become part of the evidence.

Emma: The coroner investigator gets called in to handle everything associated with the body.

Erin Lunsford: They collect all evidence that's associated with the body. They take all the photos, they take all the measurements, they put bags or things over parts of the body that we think we can get evidence from. And then their workers come in and collect and take it to the coroner's office.

Emma: By the end of the night, Lunsford and his team had collected more than a hundred pieces of evidence. Each one was then packed into a manilla envelope and shipped off to the crime lab with a rush put on the results. And a few weeks later, Lunsford got word: the lab had gotten three DNA hits on the evidence he submitted.

Emma: On the tape, they found the DNA of a Bay Area man with known connections to the Money Team. On the gloves, they found the DNA of another Bay Area man. He also had known gang affiliations, just not with the Money Team. The third man had no known gang affiliations, but where they found his DNA felt far more incriminating, because that man's DNA had been found on the body of Raveesh Kumra itself—under his fingernails.

Erin Lunsford: Yes, it's pretty—it's pretty telling.

Emma: The fingernails are the place you'd look to find the DNA of someone who'd attacked you, someone you'd fought with, someone who, at the very least, was there the night you died. And the name of that third man was Lukis Anderson.

Emma: So tell me about the day you picked up Lukis. Where did you find him? What did he look like?

Erin Lunsford: He was already in jail.

Emma: Oh, really?

Erin Lunsford: Yeah.

Emma: As it turned out, Lukis was already in custody for a parole violation. And, Lunsford discovered, Lukis had a pretty lengthy rap sheet, which included, among other things, an arrest for breaking and entering. So Lunsford and his partner drove over to the Santa Clara County jail. And in a small room in the basement of the building, they called Lukis in for an interview.

Erin Lunsford: He just came in, and kind of looked a little sleepy and kind of giving us attitude and not wanting to cooperate.

Emma: At this point, Lunsford didn't actually know much about how things went down that night at the Kumra's house, but he was fairly certain that Lukis did.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Erin Lunsford: My guess is that if you planned this whole thing and you were the leader of it, you're probably not gonna want to tell me much.]

Erin Lunsford: He was a little standoffish. Wouldn't really answer our questions. He really didn't answer much of anything.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Lukis Anderson: I don't know. I don't know what's going on. I don't.]

Emma: Since Lukis was not a member of the Money Team—or any other gang—Lunsford needed to figure out how he was connected to the other suspects. But Lukis, it seemed, had no intention of helping him figure it out.

Erin Lunsford: He just denied knowing anybody and denied ever being there. He didn't know where Los Gatos was. He had no idea what we were talking about.

Emma: At one point, Lunsford even showed him photos of the crime scene and Kumra's dead body to jog Lukis's memory. But Lukis wouldn't even look at the photos—and he certainly wasn't talking. So Lunsford played his ace. He told Lukis: you don't even have to talk. We know you were there. We found your DNA on the body of the victim.

Erin Lunsford: He goes, "I didn't do it. I didn't do it." And it was just more—just more "I didn't do it."

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Erin Lunsford: Lukis, Lukis. So there's two things here. Either that letter is wrong or you're not being truthful. And I don't have a crystal ball to know what the truth is. Only you do. And in the years I've been doing this I've never seen a DNA hit being wrong.]

Erin Lunsford: It was not a very long interview.

Emma: Lunsford's next steps were pretty rote: he submitted his findings to the district attorney, they filed charges against Lukis, and soon, the fate of Lukis Anderson, a man accused of murder, landed in the lap of Kelley Kulick. When Kelley first met Lukis, she didn't think he seemed like the type, so she told him to sit tight. Said they'd start talking about a defense once the evidence came in. But now that the evidence was in, Kelley was sweating.

Kelley Kulick: From a defense perspective, it was like, "Uh-oh. We got a problem."

Emma: Finding that your client's DNA was on the body of the victim is a big problem. Again, obviously, right? But from a defense perspective, there are ways to explain it. Like, for example, if your client and the victim knew each other, or went to the same gym or whatever. But the detectives on this case had already gone through a timeline of Kumra's day, and found no point at which he could have crossed paths with Lukis. Which left Kelley with the question:

Kelley Kulick: If you don't know each other at all and you've never been to the residence, and you don't have anybody in between you that could have transferred it, then what's your explanation for how it got there?

Emma: Lukis didn't have an explanation. The evidence made it clear that he was there, but he told Kelley he didn't remember being there, which for a public defender, was not an uncommon thing to hear from a client.

Kelley Kulick: I think we find with the population that we work with that there are a number of reasons that our clients can't be good historians. Sometimes it's because of intellectual deficits, sometimes it's because of mental illness, sometimes because it's not safe to convey information to us.

Emma: Kelley knew Lukis checked at least two of those boxes. For one, Lukis had a history of schizophrenia, and his alcoholism was so severe he would blackout periodically—often in public. He'd also suffered a massive brain injury. A few years before his arrest, he'd been struck by a truck, which left him in critical condition with huge gaps in his memory. All of this: the evidence against Lukis and his own personal history, made it difficult for Kelley to launch much of a defense.

Kelley Kulick: So it's really important as a public defender, in addition to being an independent fact investigator, to always keeping an eye on where this case should go and what's the best result for a client.

Emma: In this case, it seemed like the best result would be for Lukis to plea out. Lukis was not going to be found innocent. There was no doubt that he had done this. But what wasn't so obvious was why, or how he'd gotten himself tangled up with this whole gang situation in the first place.

Emma: Kelley knew that finding the right answers to those questions, for Lukis, could be the difference between life in prison and the death penalty. And since he wasn't going to be able to provide those answers, the defense team would have to find them for him.

Kelley Kulick: So you're looking for anything that could mitigate or really explain how did we get here, and moving forward, how can we prevent being here again?

Emma: To do that, they needed to understand who Lukis Anderson really was. The Santa Clara Public Defender's Office is one of the best resourced offices in the country. Taxes are high, and violent crime is extremely low. So they have the time, the staff and the money to pursue this more holistic approach to criminal justice.

Kelley Kulick: Which is, let's understand the person, right? Not just the crime. So we want to know what your birth records were. We want to know all your social records. We want to know your medical records. We want to know your mental health records.

Emma: Anything that could help build an understanding of Lukis, of the circumstance of his life up to that point, and the possible things that might have impacted his decision making.

Kelley Kulick: It's an investigation of the human being that's being charged with the case. And that's how it started.

Emma: Kelley's investigator set out to collect everything she could about Lukis's medical and mental health history, while the paralegals in her office started interviewing everyone who knew him.

Emma: Lukis's family members said they were absolutely shocked by the charges. Seeing all the news reports painting him as a killer was especially hard on his mother. The Lukis she knew certainly had his troubles, but he'd been a good boy. And he'd never hurt a fly. It was the kind of thing you'd hear from any loving parent.

Emma: And then one day, one of Kelley's investigators walked in with something that made her think that the things people said about Lukis might be more than just platitudes.

Kelley Kulick: I was at my desk playing around on my computer, and she came in with a stack load of documents. Like, "I've got to show you something."

Emma: Kelley read over the documents. And then she read them again and again, because what they were telling her just did not compute.

Kelley Kulick: We just kept saying there's no way. There's no way. That doesn't make sense.

Emma: Kelley called the District Attorney to schedule a meeting. She told him to bring everyone involved with the investigation, including Detective Lunsford, because she had something big to show them.

Erin Lunsford: So we got that call. We went the next morning. I went and I met with the D.A., and neither of us had any idea what we were talking about.

Kelley Kulick: He thought we were setting up a meeting to pitch an offer.

Emma: And there was a good reason Lunsford might have been optimistic: his case against Lukis had been getting stronger. He'd finally found a link between Lukis and the other suspects. Apparently, during one of Lukis's prison stints, he'd stayed in the same cell block as a friend of one of the other suspects. But Kelley was not there to make a deal.

Emma: The meeting was in a conference room at the DA's office. Kelley and her team sat on one side, Lunsford sat across from them with the district attorney and his investigators. Kelley handed each of them a binder filled with the details of her investigation. And then she started her presentation.

Kelley Kulick: I started my first slide with, "Lukis Anderson is factually innocent of this crime."

Emma: According to the documents, on the night of November 30, 2012, the night Raveesh Kumra had been murdered, during the hours the murder was said to have occurred, Lukis Anderson was in a room at the county hospital. Kelley explained it all through the records. Around 10:00 p.m., a store clerk called 311 about a man who had passed out in a shopping aisle. That was Lukis.

Emma: Dispatch then called the EMTs, who'd then taken Lukis to the hospital where he'd spent the whole night sleeping it off, with nurses coming around to check on him every 15 minutes until he was sober enough to be discharged the next morning.

Kelley Kulick: The documents created what we call a perfect alibi, which is like a unicorn in defense work.

Emma: Working backwards from the hospital, they spoke to the doctor who treated Lukis, to the EMTs who brought him in, to the owner of the store who called 311 when Lukis blacked out in the aisle of his market.

Kelley Kulick: I think what locked it for me was we spoke to one of the fire paramedics who responded, and we showed him a picture of Lukis and he was like, "Oh, that's Lukis!" And knew his Social Security number and date of birth off the top of his head because Lukis was a frequent flier because of his difficulties. So he was like, "Yeah, of course it was Lukis."

Emma: The doctor in the emergency room said more or less the same thing. They knew Lukis, and he'd been with them on the night of the murder. Lunsford was stunned.

Kelley Kulick: The homicide detectives would not look up. They would not look at us.

Erin Lunsford: And I'm going, "Oh, my goodness." And I'm trying to think, okay, did I mess this up? Should I have known this?

Kelley Kulick: And when we got to the end, they said, "Thank you very much, and thank you for coming to us." And the lead prosecutor called me and was like, "We will be following up on this immediately."

Emma: If what Kelley presented was true, then Lukis Anderson could not have murdered Raveesh Kumra. He couldn't have even been there the night it happened. And based on Lunsford's own investigation, they had no reason to believe that the two had crossed paths earlier in the day. If all that was true, then Erin Lunsford and the district attorney, and the Santa Clara crime lab were left with an even more troubling question: if Lukis Anderson had never encountered Raveesh Kumra, then how had his DNA ended up on the body?


Emma: Erin Lunsford had a mantra, a code that guided his approach to solving crimes.

Erin Lunsford: The evidence is the evidence. And that's what I try to do my whole career. The evidence is the evidence. It can only show one thing.

Emma: But now, Lunsford was confronted with evidence that seemed to be showing two different things. First, Lukis's DNA had been found on the body on the night of the crime. Second, on the night of the crime, Lukis was sleeping in a hospital bed under constant supervision. As far as Lunsford was concerned, there was no way that both things were true. And that's because Lunsford had never heard about this thing called secondary transfer DNA.

Emma: Remember that paper I told you about? The one by that team of Australian researchers way back in 1997? That paper introduced us to the concept of "Touch DNA" and forever changed the way crime scenes are investigated. Well, in that same paper, another revolutionary observation was made—one that never seemed to catch on within the forensic community: DNA can be moved.

Katie Worth: So, like, our DNA has this life after it leaves us, right? Our skin cells that we shed all day wind up in places that we've never been.

Emma: That's Katie Worth. She's an investigative reporter who has written about secondary transfer DNA. She says that when you realize just how easily DNA can be moved, it can start to kinda gross you out.

Katie Worth: It's really disturbing, actually, to think about. Like, to look around the room and be like, there is DNA in this room that belongs to no one that has been in this room. And my DNA is in places that I've never been.

Emma: And this is really just the tip of the iceberg. A single DNA sample can transfer between multiple surfaces, hitchhiking from person to person or through various surfaces, until it ends up somewhere many miles away from its origin—from you. Katie explained all this through an experiment by that same Australian research team in 2013.

Katie Worth: There was this crazy study where they sat a bunch of people down at a table and they just shared a jug of juice.

Emma: The volunteers sat around for about 20 minutes, passing the jug, pouring drinks and chatting. And when they were done, the researchers came in and swabbed all the surfaces in the room, including the volunteers' hands. They found that about a third of the volunteers had someone else's DNA on their hands even though they didn't touch each other.

Emma: And there was another pretty shocking discovery: the researchers also found foreign DNA that didn't belong to any of the volunteers or the scientists. Somehow, someone had brought it in without even realizing it.

Katie Worth: So it might have been, like, their girlfriend's DNA that they'd made out with that morning. Or it could have been, you know, the barista at Starbucks handed them their cup of coffee that morning, and they picked it up on their fingers.

Emma: Or it was someone far removed from the volunteers, connected through some completely random chain of people. The possibilities seemed endless.

Katie Worth: Once you know that, then you walk through the world a little bit differently, and you look at the reliability of forensic DNA differently.

Emma: The problem again was that nobody had ever told Erin Lunsford about secondary transfer. In all his years of working crime scenes, with all of his training, he'd never even heard the term. So Lunsford would basically have to figure it out on his own.

Emma: Over the next month, Lunsford doubled back on all of Kelley's work. He interviewed everyone her team interviewed, read every document she read, until there was no question: Lukis did not kill Raveesh Kumra. In all likelihood, he'd never even crossed paths with Kumra. And he'd certainly never been to Kumra's house. Which still left Lunsford scratching his head over how the DNA got there.

Erin Lunsford: If he was in the hospital, how did his DNA get there? That was my biggest challenge is I'm gonna need to prove that his DNA got on the victim in some other way.

Emma: And there, in one of those giant binders that Kelley had distributed at their meeting, he spotted something—a name he recognized.

Erin Lunsford: Something struck me and I said, "You know what? That sounds very familiar. Not like Smith or Jones, it was a little bit different and I'd heard it before.

Emma: It took him a minute to figure out where and when he heard it. But when he did, everything clicked into place. One of the EMTs that transported Lukis to the hospital had also responded to the Kumra crime scene.

Erin Lunsford: I said, "Oh, my goodness, the freaking paramedics did it!"

Emma: Lunsford even figured out how Lukis's cells had ended up under the victim's fingernails. You know those little things doctors slip on your finger to measure the oxygen in your blood? Apparently, the EMT had used the same device on both men, transferring a little collection of skin cells from the finger of Lukis Anderson to the finger of Raveesh Kumra. And with that, the charges were dropped and the case against Lukis Anderson was closed. But for prosecutors all over the country, a whole new can of worms had been opened.

Kelley Kulick: Lukis's case I think not only shocked me, I think it caused waves in the forensic world. I think it caused waves in prosecutions and defense offices. There was a national response. And so from there, my world became all about secondary transfer for a while.

Emma: Kelley Kullick again. As a public defender, she actually knew about secondary transfer DNA, and she'd tried to use it as a defense in other cases. But there were times she'd literally been laughed out of courtrooms merely at the suggestion of DNA being accidentally transferred to a crime scene. But now, Lukis's case had opened the door for three decades of cases built on touch DNA to be called into question. Except the justice system is still really reluctant to ask those questions.

Kelley Kulick: The community is still resistant. They don't like it because it opens up the world that we don't know. We like consistency, we like to know what we can rely on. And people don't like uncertainty. And so even judges, who are the gatekeepers of this evidence, are resistant to letting this evidence in.

Emma: And it doesn't seem like that resistance is entirely unfounded or malicious. In a criminal court of law, DNA evidence allows us to make determinations about guilt in a way that feels unemotional and impartial, only it isn't.

Katie Worth: You know, there's just so many reasons that our criminal justice system is flawed, and it would be nice to think that this one part of it, this, like, science, was okay. But, like, to realize, like, even that is super flawed and, like, absolutely has put innocent people in jail is distressing.

Emma: Suddenly, the act of sitting on a jury, of judging someone we've never met and deciding their fate becomes a lot more personal.

Kelley Kulick: If you've never sat through a jury trial as a juror, it's a huge responsibility, especially in a homicide. You're making a decision, number one, hopefully, to bring justice to victims and their families. Number two, you don't want to get it wrong because otherwise you're gonna send somebody to prison for the rest of their life that didn't do it. It is a huge responsibility. And the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard is unsettling to people that they have to decide, so if they can feel well, I grounded my decision on the science, the science told me that this is the answer, I think they feel less of a responsibility.

Emma: Not just for jurors or law enforcement, but the general public too. All of us have this baseline understanding of what DNA is and how it ranks in order of legitimacy, in part because of our passive cultural education we've gotten through TV and movies. It's definitive. It's infallible. So much so, that we comfortably ignore other factors like alibis and motives. And when pieces of a narrative don't match up, we search for other ways to make sense of the story. Like how Lunsford found links between Lukis and the other suspects.

Erin Lunsford: Those links were still there, and he did have contact with that guy in jail and stuff like that, but just they probably just didn't have a relationship. So there was some of that circumstantial stuff there, but it wasn't gonna fit or have anything to do with our case. Those were just true coincidences.

Emma: For us, one of the craziest things about this story was how much it resembled other stories we've looked at. The fact that Lukis was accused of a crime he couldn't remember committing, that he was uncooperative during interrogation, and that circumstantial evidence formed the foundation of the case against him. Those other cases resulted in guilty verdicts. And for what it's worth, we have no reason to believe those people weren't guilty. But then, until Kelley's team found an alibi for Lukis, we had no reason to believe he wasn't guilty either.

Emma: That's something Detective Erin Lunsford, a person who investigates and builds these cases, finds deeply unsettling. Lunsford never gets to serve on juries. He's never tasked with deciding if someone is guilty or innocent. But I asked him.

Emma: If this case had gone to trial, and you were presented with this case where the suspect's DNA had been found under the victim's fingernails, do you think you would have voted to convict?

Erin Lunsford: Probably would have. Because at the time, if they couldn't give a good argument on how that DNA got there, then the only other option is that he was there.

Emma: And that's probably the scariest part of this story. Based on the evidence against Lukis, I probably would have voted to convict him too.

Emma: Lunsford ultimately closed the Kumra murder case after he'd found a fourth DNA signature at the site. The fourth suspect had ties to the other men. And inside his home, police found jewelry and a purse believed to be taken from the Kumra's. In 2016, the three men were convicted and sentenced for the fatal home robbery. Two of the men got life in prison. The other got 25 to life.

Emma: As for Lukis, he never received any compensation for the pain and embarrassment he and his family endured as a result of these accusations. Once he was released from jail, he returned to his life on the street. We tried to interview him for this story, but we were unable to find him.

Emma: Crime Show is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. This episode was written and produced by Jerome Campbell and me, Emma Courtland.

Emma: Crime Show is produced by Jerome Campbell, Cat Schuknecht and Jade Abdul-Malik. Our senior producer is Mitch Hansen. Original reporting on this story by Katie Worth for the Marshall Project and Frontline PBS. Editing by Devon Taylor. Production oversight by Collin Campbell. Nicole Pasulka is our fact checker.

Emma: Theme song by So Wylie. Mixing and sound design by Daniel Ramirez. Original music by Dara Hirsch, Bobby Lord and So Wylie. Special thanks to Rachel Strom and Laura Stupsker.