WILMINGTON, Ohio - The Norwood police officer who reportedly spotted Carrie Culberson's car while on patrol in May said in court Tuesday that he was mistaken.
The testimony of Officer Ken Lancaster was a blow for the defense Tuesday as lawyers for Vincent Doan began presenting their case in his murder trial.
It was Officer Lancaster's May 16 sighting of a small red car bearing Ohio license plate number ROL 402 - the one registered to Ms. Culberson - that bolstered the defense's theory: Ms. Culberson left of her own volition.
But the officer told jurors in a Clinton County courtroom that he thought he made a mistake when he learned the license plate number he copied matched Ms. Culberson's 1989 red Honda CRX.
"There was some question (immediately), yes, sir," Officer Lancaster said, under questioning by Clinton County Prosecutor William Peelle.
Dayton attorney John Rion, who is representing Mr. Doan, questioned whether Officer Lancaster changed his story after being questioned by Clinton County authorities.
"I said that (it was a mistake) before I sat down with investigators," Officer Lancaster calmly replied.
Officer Lancaster was one of 15 witnesses called by the defense, which opened its case Tuesday. The witnesses testified they had seen either Ms. Culberson or her car - or both - after Aug. 29, the day she disappeared. The sightings were largely east of Cincinnati, including Highland, Clermont and Clinton counties.
But under questioning by Mr. Peelle, most witnesses testified they could say only that the woman or car they spotted bore a striking resemblance to Ms. Culberson or her vehicle.
In one case, a Lebanon man testified he saw Ms. Culberson driving through Blanchester in the early morning hours of Sept. 10, 1996. Charles Sharp told jurors that Ms. Culberson, known for long, curly brunette hair and deep tan, looked different when he saw her that morning. He described a woman with blond hair and no tan.
After recalling that she was missing, Mr. Sharp told jurors, he spent the early morning hours of Sept. 10 searching in vain around Blanchester.
He felt compelled to come forward and testify because he thinks Mr. Doan is innocent, he said under questioning by both Mr. Rion and later by Mr. Peelle.