Traces of evidence consistent with human blood were found on tennis shoes worn by Caleb D. Hughes the night 5-year-old Melissa Brannen disappeared, and Hughes lied to investigators when questioned about the shoes, according to a federal affidavit released yesterday.
The document, which gives the government's clearest accounting yet of Melissa's disappearance from a Christmas party, was first filed in federal court in Alexandria last year, and was ordered sealed after prosecutors argued that its release could harm their investigation of Hughes.
The affidavit, minus one paragraph, was released yesterday by U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. after a motion was filed by The Washington Post.
Hughes, a groundskeeper at the Lorton apartment complex where Melissa lived, was indicted in Fairfax County Circuit Court last week on charges of abduction with intent to defile, a felony that carries a prison term of 20 years to life.
Hughes's lawyer, Peter D. Greenspun, argued yesterday against the release of the document, saying publicity would impair his client's ability to receive a fair trial. The trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 28.
Greenspun said media accounts about the affidavit would reveal, "step by step, the entire investigative course" of the Brannen case, and would be interpreted as "the gospel truth as far as readers are concerned."
The affidavit, filed last December by FBI investigators who wanted to search Hughes's car, recounted how Hughes became a suspect within hours of the girl's disappearance. According to the document, police discovered clothing and tennis shoes in the dryer at Hughes's Woodbridge town house and took them into evidence.
Though Hughes denied he wore the shoes that night, FBI special agent Charles Dorsey wrote in the affidavit that a photo taken at the party contradicted Hughes's account. Dorsey wrote that he had seen "a photograph, taken at the Christmas party, of Hughes wearing these same tennis shoes."
Subsequent tests determined that several pieces recently had been cut out of the shoes, and that "an area on the right tennis shoe of Hughes, adjacent to a cut area, contained human protein . . . consistent with human blood," the document states.
Authorities also discovered stains in Hughes's car that were determined to be human blood, though the affidavit contains no conclusions as to whose blood it was. Police records also noted that Hughes could not explain where he had been for the two hours after he was last seen at the party.
The affidavit documents a simple chronology of events that began about 7:20 p.m. Dec. 3, when Melissa and her mother, Tammy Brannen, arrived for a holiday party at the Woodside apartment complex. According to the document, Hughes was seen drinking at the party.
About 10 p.m., Tammy Brannen asked her daughter to put on her coat because it was time to go home, according to the document.
"Tammy Brannen then observed her daughter, Melissa, and a man named Caleb D. Hughes standing near the front door of the center," the document states. "When the mother turned back moments later, she discovered that her daughter as well as Hughes were missing."
Dorsey wrote that four other witnesses saw Hughes talking with Melissa, and that an undisclosed number of witnesses last saw Melissa with Hughes about 10:20 p.m. After a search failed to turn up either Melissa or Hughes, guests phoned Hughes at his home.
Carol Bonneville Hughes, Caleb Hughes's wife, told callers that her husband had not yet returned, according to the affidavit. Fairfax police called just after midnight and were told the same.
The affidavit says that Hughes called the Woodside complex at 1:27 a.m., and that Fairfax police arrived at his home four hours later.
In examining the passenger seat of Hughes's car, Fairfax police also found traces of "black-dyed rabbit hair" that was consistent with the rabbit hair coat Tammy Brannen wore to the Christmas party, the affidavit states.
Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said last week that he decided to charge Hughes with abduction after it became clear Melissa might never be found.
Sources said forensic evidence, including the rabbit hair and fibers, will play a crucial role in the case. However, although the samples of blood found in the car and the substance found on Hughes's shoes were tested extensively, the sources said that evidence did not ultimately link Hughes to Melissa.
Kevin T. Baine, representing The Post, had urged that the entire affidavit be made public, arguing that "releasing that extra paragraph is not going to spell the difference in whether this defendant is going to get a fair trial in the case."