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Four months after a grand jury indicted two white men for the dragging death of a black man in this racially-troubled northeast Texas town, key evidence against the pair appears to be evaporating amid growing optimism by one defense attorney that he can win an acquittal when the first case comes to trial in July.

Police accuse Shannon Keith Finley and Charles Ryan Crostley, both 28, of using Finley’s pickup truck to run over and drag to death 24-year-old Brandon McClelland on a rural road before dawn Sept. 16, 2008. Local civil rights activists denounced the case as a racially-inspired hate crime.

But an initial police claim that investigators had found blood on the underside of the pickup has not been confirmed by more thorough forensic testing, which failed to verify the presence of any human material or DNA beneath the truck, special prosecutor Toby Shook confirmed.

“Initial scientific analysis of the truck didn’t show anything,” Shook said, noting there was evidence the suspects had washed the truck before it was impounded by investigators. “We are sending it back for further tests.”

Moreover, a crucial prosecution witness — to whom, police say, Finley allegedly confessed details of the killing — has been challenged on his credibility, which could undermine any testimony he might give against Finley.

The witness, James Mitchell Laster, told police Finley had admitted to him he had intentionally run over McClelland and dragged his body beneath his truck for about 40 feet, according to a police affidavit.

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