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This article was published 6/12/2017 (855 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
An FBI handwriting analyst couldn't say whether an accused bomber was responsible for addressing explosive packages mailed within the city more than two years ago.
As the attempted murder trial continues for Guido Amsel, a 51-year-old former autobody shop owner, court heard there was "no conclusion" about whether the accused's handwriting matched the writing on the messages and address labels sent to victims.
Most of the known writing samples of Amsel's provided to handwriting analyst Peter Belcastro were in cursive writing, whereas the packages were addressed in uppercase printed letters, court heard. Belcastro only had photographs of the packages to go by, some of which were blurry, so he couldn't examine the handwriting or the ink under a microscope the way he would if he had an original document, he said.
Belcastro said he ultimately couldn't tell whether the questioned documents matched Amsel's handwriting.
"I did see inconsistencies on one hand, but on the other hand, I did have several characteristics that I was able to find in the known (writing samples), so to me, they were being weighed equitably, and I couldn't come up with a conclusion," he said. "Primarily, I'm stuck at this 'no conclusion' because of limitation, and the limitations are that the known writing that was submitted just did not contain enough repeatable uppercase hand printing for me to make a meaningful conclusion."
But Belcastro decided all of the messages on the mailed explosives were likely written by the same person.
Belcastro wrote three reports for the Winnipeg Police Service after he compared photos of the handwriting found at three explosion scenes to each other and to samples of handwriting allegedly from Amsel. The only conclusion he could reach was that the same person or persons may have written all of the address labels and a message on yellow note paper to lawyer Maria Mitousis.
Mitousis lost her hand in an explosion at her River Avenue law office on July 3, 2015 after she opened a package containing a digital voice recorder and a note that instructed her to press play and listen to a conversation. When she pushed the button, the device exploded, court previously heard.
Police later reconstructed the message and sent the pieces to Belcastro at the FBI lab in Quantico, Va.
Although he looked at the original scraps of notepaper, he relied on a photo of the reconstructed note to compare the writing, rather than piecing the message back together himself, Belcastro said.
During cross-examination, defence lawyer Saheel Zaman asked if it was possible the message to Mitousis and the address labels on the explosive package could have been written by different people.
Belcastro said he didn't think so.
"That possibility may exist, but if I felt that that were the possibility, then I would have rendered an opinion of (the same writer) 'may not have prepared.' So by rendering the opinion of 'may have,' I think that it's more likely that they were prepared by the same individual," he said.
The FBI lab typically asks for a variety of writing samples from a suspect, including "normal course of business writing," and specifically requested samples repeating words used in other documents under investigation, Belcastro said.
No requested writing samples were provided to the FBI in this case, he said.
Amsel has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault, mischief and explosives-related offences. He is accused of mailing three letter bombs targeting Mitousis, his ex-wife and his former lawyer. The other two explosive packages were detonated in the presence of police bomb robots.
Amsel is also accused in a December 2013 explosion that left a charred crater in the front exterior wall of his ex-wife’s home in the RM of St. Clements.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.