Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 3, Part II, Testimony

Stephanie Lazarus, June 2009

I’m up on the 9th floor in the elevator bay waiting for the security station to open. I chat with Dateline Producer Robert Dean. Once we’re in the courtroom hallway, I grab a seat and start taking notes. Pat LaLama introduces me to her husband, Anthoni Brooklier. I’m very excited that my friend Steven Mikulan is here because of his very funny, acerbic wit.

DDA Paul Nunez stops by the family to greet them in the hallway, then DDA Shannon Presby.

Inside the courtroom, a new reporter is here, Jan from the LA Weekly. I lean forward and Steven and Jan chat and I overhear Jan state that he used to work for LA Magazine, where Steven works now.

I overhear the last half of a sentence Nunez says to the Rasmussen family from the well, “....my strong belief in God.” And then a moment or two later, “I reluctantly gave it up.” I wonder what that conversation was all about. I ask the Public Information Office (PIO) about the exhibits and if any will be made available to the press. I believe it’s Arlene who tells me that nothing’s been released yet, but when it is, it will be available at the PIO.

Lazarus has on another outfit that looks to be a very lightweight knit with a touch of sheen to it. Her pants are medium gray and I try to grab the right word to describe her jacket. Steven, who’s usually spot on with fashion sense is at a loss for words and only offers “cardigan”. Lazarus has on hip length, loose gray knit sweater jacket with a bit of sheen to it. Lazarus has big smiles for her family when she exits the jail area into the courtroom.

At 8:45 AM a tall, handsome suited man with blond highlights in his hair enters carrying some papers. With his tan, good looks and hair I think he’s just come from the beach. He sits on a chair next to the detective’s table in the well. More of Sherri Rasmussen’s friends are here. Judge Perry takes the bench.

JP: The court has received and read this morning the motion by the prosecutor to exclude third party evidence and (motion of third party evidence) memorandum of law from the defense.

I must say, trials are fluid. Witnesses don’t always testify as expected and sometimes surprises occur. A trial is to ascertain the truth. To that end we have discovery rules that have changed over the years. I was a prosecutor and defense attorney. It’s not uncommon for a defense attorney to produce at the last minute to (? an?) alibi witness. (Today, the) law is changed. The law now requires (the defense) to disclose (the witnesses they will call at trial).

I do fault the defense with this. I do think the defense was not forthcoming. (That they were) withholding where they wanted to go (with the witness Hooks).

Overland interjects and states “I’d like to be heard! It’s just not true!”

JP: I’m not getting into a fight about this. (The defense is) not living up to the full disclosure.

To me, Overland appears angry and doesn’t agree.

MO: It has nothing to do with discovery! It has to do with the report! It’s not fair to accuse me of (a) discovery (violation)! It’s just not right!

Judge Perry states he’s not going to allow Hooks to be examined on this issue at this time (the second burglary). (The court will) consider motion to exclude third party evidence (and) hear testimony on burglary witnesses later and I will make a decision later.

MO: I’d like to make an offer of proof. Page 34 and 35 of the report prepared by Mayer and Hooks.

Overland reads from the document. He doesn’t look happy. The jury is called in. Once the jury is settled, we hear that Alternate #1 possibly has a job interview.
#5 STEVEN HOOKS: retired LAPD Detective, secondary on the case in 1986

Overland is still on cross of Hooks from yesterday. Courtney Overland leads Mark up to the podium. There is a close up of a photograph of Rasmussen’s skin. It’s a color photo of the bite mark and Hooks is questioned on what the photo is.

MO: Were you present when prints were lifted from the BMW?

SH: No.

MO: When the BMW was recovered?

SH: No.

Overland then asks to question the witness outside the scope to save time and not call the witness back during his case. Judge Perry has no objection.

Overland asks if he remembers interviewing Anastasia Volisniyis.

SH: Not independently.

Overland shows him copies of pages 24 and 25 of the 50 page report. Based on the documents, he remembers.

MO: Did she tell you she received a purse at a certain time?

SH: Yes. On February 24th, 1986 at approximately 4:30 PM.

MO: Did she tell you about seeing a garage door open?

SH: Yes.

MO: Did she tell you when she saw that garage door open?

SH: 11:20.

MO: In the morning?

SH: Yes.

Cross is finished.

Judge Perry states, “I need counsel to approach.” I note that Lazarus has on the same white canvas type deck shoes I saw her wear at all the pretrial hearings.

Presby gets up to redirect his witness.

SP: You were read some summaries and came to conclusions?

MO: Objection!

JP: Over ruled!

SP: And asked some questions about your conclusions. Who wrote the report?

SH: Detective Mayer.

SP: Were those your conclusions?

SH: No.

SP: In preparation of your testimony, you were provided some notes. Did you write those notes?

SH: Yes.

During cross, he was shown a photo by the defense, with blood on the stereo equipment. The pattern below the equipment, the tile pattern is pointed out to the witness.

SP: Do you know if that’s the back of the stereo or another location in the kitchen?

SH: No.

SP: Did you review the Crime Scene Log this morning? (snip) Did a fingerprint expert, Mr. Ames come to the scene (on February 24th?)?

SH: No.

It was another fingerprint examiner, G. Agular, (sp?) who has an entry on the log. The people present a single page, from the chronological record. The date that Agular arrived 19:48 and then departed 4:00 is noted.

SP: Did fingerprint expert Ames take some fingerprints from the scene?

SH: Yes.

SP: Do you know when he did that?

SH: Yes. On February 25th, at 11:00 am.

SP: Under cross, you were asked about a bloody palm print and the location of the pam print. Remember that?

SH: Yes.

Presby puts up a black and white photo of evidence collection of placard #3 by the outlet plug.

SP: Is it the same location, adjacent to the electric outlet?

SH: Yes.

SP: The location where the palm print seen (is the) location where Ames lifted the print?

SH: Yes.

Redirect is finished and Overland recrosses the witness.

MO: You said the conclusions in that ’86 report were not your conclusions?

SH: No. (snip) In referencing the entire report, it can’t really be answered, no.

MO: You felt the conclusion(s) were incomplete?

SH: Yes.

MO: You signed your name?

SH: Yes.

MO: After you signed your name, but... (?) I don’t totally agree?

SH: I don’t recall.

MO: Did you ever tell anyone you didn’t agree?

SH: I don’t recall.

Overland wants to show him a letter dated April 6th, 1986.

SP: Objection! Approach?

Lazarus hair is pulled back in a ponytail. Her head is down. She appears to be looking at papers, materials on the defense table. She’s writing, possibly taking notes. The tall surfer looking man leaves. The sidebar is over and there are no more questions.
#6 JOE A MURILLO: retired from LA County Corner’s Office

Nunez presents the witness.

Murillo is retired from the coroner’s office. He worked there since 1982. In 1986 he worked in the evidence room. His duties were to collect clothing evidence. He received on the job training. Trained one on one with a supervisor. Murillo explains what a blood swatch is.

JM: It’s a piece of cloth attached to a swatch card, that you pour the blood onto the material then dry them over night.

Autopsies are performed in the AM and then he would make swatches in the afternoon. After he makes the swatch then he lets them dry. Depending on how many autopsies were done would depend on how many swatches he made.

PN: You took care to keep them separated?

JM: Yes.

PN: Do you recognize (this) swatch card?

JM: That’s my writing.

Murillo reads the coroner’s case number on the card and the victim’s name, Sherri Rasmussen. Murillo also identifies other initials on the card, a Deputy Medical Examiner, Dr. Selser, who is a coroner at the department.

Overland states he hasn’t seen the exhibit and Nunez walks it over to Overland.

MO: Just show it to me before you give it to him.

I make a little sketch of the card and what it looks like.

MO: Your honor, may we approach?

Sidebar. I had the opportunity to chat a bit with a reporter who is with the local Fox station. He says he’s independent. Before Fox he was with the LAPD for many years. The surfer/beach guy returns. The sidebar is over.

PN: Your custom is to fill out everything in the black box on the card?

JM: Yes.

The date the sample was frozen was the next day.

PN: The other initials, did you put those there?

JM: No.

PN: Then the item is stored at the coroner’s office, in the freezers?

JM: Yes.

When the decedent came in, the body would be photographed with the clothing on then without. Murillo states he is familiar with the evidence “cages” where the clothing would be hung to dry it out. There ‘s a pan in the bottom of the cage that collects the blood. The clothing is put in a rack for a particular case. Then the cage is put in the drying room and locked over night. His responsibilities in the evidence room were to collect clothing from the drying racks and prepare the clothing for packaging in bundles. Murillo identifies his handwriting and initials on a (evidence tag?). Once clothing is dried, it’s folded up and placed in a paper bag. Murillo identifies clothing from Rasmussen that he collected and bundled. A red rust colored item, a tank-top shirt and black underwear.

The procedures for each step in the process of his duties is outlined for the jury and the documentation he prepared. He wrote the name of the photographer on the card and his name, releasing the items to LAPD. The items in the property room stayed there until released to somebody and signed. He collected evidence, received it and also signed it out when necessary. The evidence room is a locked room. Only people who work in that room have access.

Direct is finished and cross begins.

Overland asks if there are a number of freezers in the coroner’s office.

MO: In 1986, how many were there?

JM: About five.

MO: (?) Places where evidence collected and brought in, collected by different agencies and stored if you have to?

(I think that’s in error. I don’t believe the coroner stores evidence collected by other agencies. I think they only collect and store items that their criminalists collect.)

The evidence room and freezers are in the basement. In 1986, he and Mr. Heath were the only ones who were allowed to go into the property room. Until his promotion in 1988. Overland shows Murillo a coroner’s property room log, and Murillo identifies it as such. Overland goes over every single column on the log with Murillo and what it means. Murillo explains what a “drop box” is. It’s a box that criminalists can drop in evidence (after hours) that’s locked and can be retried later to be booked and logged.

Overland is asking about every single item listed on the log. The hair kit, the pubic hair kit, etc.

Judge Perry steps in to help with the questioning of the witness about release signatures on the log. Murillo states the questionable signatures were a student worker.

JP: So, if the log is correct, someone else released it?

JM: Yes.

JP: How do you spell that fellas name?

JM: P A T I N O.

In asking about the signature, Murillo agrees that he wasn’t there.

JM: But I know that Mr. Health was. He was the supervisor.

Overland asks Murillo about the two GSR kits that show they were never released. According to the log, the GSR kits should still be in the evidence room.

The witness is excused and the next witness is called.

The morning break is taken at 10:00 AM and I rush out to post. I just make it back into the courtroom. Judge Perry states that Lloyd Mahaney’s testimony from the prelim will be read into the record. Overland will read his cross examination into the record. Overland wants to introduce Lloyd Mahaney’s hand written notes that his report were written from. Overland is challenging the word swab vs swabs, the differences in Mahaney’s typed report verses his handwritten report/notes. Overland states this is impeachment of this witness, evidence code 1202. Judge Perry responds, “What makes you say that Mahaney is a hearsay witness?” Overland reads a case, Blackwell, and the fact that the hand written notes were never shown to Mahoney.

I believe Judge Perry states the hand written notes could have been a typo. He wants to hear from the people and give them a chance to research the point and he will determine whether they are admissible or not at a later time.

Overland has an objection to telling the jury what happened to Mahaney. He’d rather have Judge Perry just tell them he’s unavailable. Judge Perry disagrees and tells the jury Mahaney is dead. Judge Perry is going to give them the date of the preliminary hearing testimony and read the prior testimony into the record.

JP: Lloyd Mahaney. (Testimony was on) December 7th, 2009. (You) must accept the testimony as if it was given to you live. Mr. Mahaney is deceased. (snip) We have a reader who reads the responses. James Garrison, Deputy District Attorney (this is the blond surfer/beach guy, just from the beach guy).

Nunez will be reading former DDA Shelly Torrealbas questions. Judge Perry and Mark Overland will read their questions. Since I already have a detailed summary of Mahaney’s testimony in my coverage of the preliminary hearing transcripts, I don’t take much in the way of notes.
#7 LLOYD MAHANEY: Deceased LA Co. Coroner’s criminalist/investigator who collected the bite mark swab at the crime scene.

When evidence items are entered Nunez reenters their new number into the record. It’s 10:45 AM and I start to close my eyes. My stomach is already growling and I wonder how I’m going to get through the next hour. I note that Lazarus is following along with the testimony via a copy of the transcript. I don’t take any notes since this exact testimony was presented at the prelim.
#8 JANE RODRIGUEZ: Questions Document Examiner for the LAPD who examined the bite mark envelope and the tube inside to read faded ink writing on these items

Presby directs the examination.

Rodriguez states that a questions document examiner determines the authenticity or source of questioned documents. She has a masters in forensic science. She underwent a two year training program at the LAPD. She continues to list her CV.

She received the evidence envelope and the tube on January 13th, 2011 and began her exam after that. Four photos of the tube are introduced. Rodriguez took the photos.

SP: In the upper right hand corner, is there any writing there?

JR: There’s a pre-printed DR number, Science Division case number, the property item number as well.

All these number correspond to her report and notes. Another view of the same tube is presented. She photographed the tube from every side of the tube, rotating it every quarter turn to take the next photo. There was writing visible on the tube.

SP: Did you do something to attempt to see the writing that is not visible under regular light?

JR: Yes I did. (I used) an alternate light source.

She used an alternate light source to assist her in this case. It produced a luminescence of a glowing that she could not see under regular light. New photo up o the overhead screen. It’s a photo where some writing looks glowing. Rodriguez then exposed the tube to infrared (light) and photographed it. She is asked about what she was able to see on the tube label under the special light source.

JR: I was able to make out on the left side of the tube ‘left arm’ and on the right, only make out the numbers ’02’.

There is more that she was able to see that was normally undetectable at that location on the label. Another exhibit with two images on it. Rodriguez was able to see other writing on the label. The words “bite mark” and below that a number 86-267. There was a (sixth) last number but she was unable to determine it. Another image of the same tube asking about the coroner’s case number 86-2676. She’s asked about other writing on the image up on the overhead screen.

JR: That writing is the setting on the device as to what she was able to see.

The settings are stamped into the photograph, so if they had to they can recreate the image. The technical settings for the machine used to take the images.

SP: Can age affect the ability to see ink under visible light?

JR: Yes. Ink can fade.

Rodriguez also conducted an exam of the front and back of the envelope. More photos are introduced depicting the front and back of the envelope. She analyzed under visible light. Under regular light, there was visible writing, “Rasmussen, Sherri”. There were things that were faintly visible, some initials, a date and time. There was no writing visible on the back of the envelope.

She did the same thing she did with the tube, looked at it under a special light source. The same luminescence of writing occurred. New photographs are introduced. In exhibit 103A, she was able to see on the right top of the envelope a #6 to the right of the word “Sherri.” On the description line of the envelope, “swabbed bite mark” location “left arm”. The pre-printed box was checked indicating the evidence was collected “at the scene”. The initials LM were present and to the right of that the date was visible. In exhibit 103B, the date 2/25/86 can be seen and what Rodriguez believes is a time, “02:06”. These images she took with the special instrument also have the technical data printed on the image.

Rodriguez also analyzed the back of the envelope. She did the same procedure as before. There was faded writing present there as well.

SP: Where there pre-printed boxes on the back?

JR: Not that I could see, no.

An image of the back of the envelope under special light is up on the overhead screen. She was able to see some writing. She could see that what was there was backwards. Everything on the back was transposed. The information was canted or angled on the back of the envelope. She used her machine to flip the image which allowed her to read and take a photo of the flipped image.

SP: What is ink transference?

JR: The ink on one surface can be transferred over to another.

If written normally it would be transferred backwards. Pressure and the type of ink can contribute to ink transference. She’s asked about time. Time can be involved but Rodriguez states, “...but I’ve seen more transference with moisture.”

The writing on the back was backwards and at an angle. There was no writing that appeared to be on a pre-printed line.

SP: What did you see?

JR: The top left, ‘at scene’, a date ‘11/25/82’. (snip) Below that ‘body’.

I believe she states there is an ‘R” and some illegible writing. Below that, I believe she said the word ‘flexible’ and the rest was illegible.

Direct is finished and cross begins.

She began her exam on January 13th, 2011 and finished on January 20th, 2011.

MO: Where continuous examinations? Did you work eight hours a day?

JR: We work 10 hour days. It took approximately 45 hours.

She received two items separately. The envelope was packaged inside another envelope inside a box. Overland asks her about a photo, it’s a close up of the coroner’s envelope. She states the photo is not as she received it, as to timing of the photo.

I believe she testifies that she flattened back the folded over flap to see if there was any writing on the underside of the fold.

MO: You made the hole?

JR: I didn’t make the hole bigger. All I did.... (miss the rest of the answer)

MO: How may different flaps (were there? did you make?)....

She didn’t make any additional tears. She just made sure there was no writing underneath. Overland asks her about a “second flap”. Rodriguez testifies that the tear on flap #1 would touch the tear on flap #2, if they were put back in place. Flap number three could not be pulled down without doing more damage.

MO: At any time, did you try to see any writing on the (swab?)....

JR: I never had the swab itself. I only had the tube.

MO: What was the overall condition?

JR: Poor.

I’m not sure if Overland states this or if he asks if the bottom of the envelope was opened and a hole in the envelope.

MO: There were a lot of wrinkles on it?

JR: Yes.

Overland asks a question about the writing on the back of the envelope that she saw.

MO: In your opinion, the 11/25/82 date was transferred to the coroner’s envelope from something else?

JR: Yes.

MO: It came into contact with something from something labeled ...

SP: Objection! Speculation!

(I believe Judge Perry sustains the objection.)

MO: The date, 1982, (how it) ended up... whatever came in contact with (the envelope) do you know what that was?

JR: I have no idea.

Cross ends and this witness is excused.
#9 RICHARD JAMES HEATH: LA Co. Coroner’s employee, worked in the property room as a supervisor in 1986.

Heath has worked for the coroner’s office for 39 years. He worked in investigations for 12 years and before that the evidence room for eight years. His title in 1986 was Evidence Custodian. His responsibilities in that job are outlined. He received all evidence, maintained evidence and released evidence to other agencies.

He received (some of) the evidence in this case from the coroner’s investigators. In the coroner’s office, there are secured boxes where evidence can be dropped off by criminalists/investigators. Heath had a key to these boxes. I miss getting who else had keys to the lock boxes.

In 1986, he was a supervising criminalist in the property/evidence room. Joe Murillo also worked there at that time. When evidence was dropped off in the lock box, (employees?) would fill out the evidence log. He knew Lloyd Mahaney and recognizes his initials on the log.

The lunch break is called.

Back on the 9th floor after lunch, I see crime novelist Aphrodite Jones is here. Aphrodite has her own show on Investigation Discovery that is now starting it’s third season of filming.

1:30 PM
Back inside the courtroom, I’m not in a good spot. I got in the courtroom late and there are some new people I’ve not seen before sitting on the end of the first bench row. Presby and Nunez chat for a moment. Nunez tells Rasmussen’s family that the image of the child as his screen saver on his laptop is his son. I comment that he doesn’t look old enough to have a thirteen-year-old child. I’m surprised. I thought Nunez was much younger. Judge Perry tells Nunez that he thinks his direct examination is “too aggressive, too leading.” Nunez replies, “Just trying to advance the ball, your honor.” Judge Perry instructs, “Just let him explain.”

The jury enters.
#9 RICHARD JAMES HEATH: continued testimony
On the evidence log, his name would not be in the “collected by” column. It would only be in the received or potentially the released column. Health is not familiar with records being kept on microfiche.

Evidence logs have a back side to them. Heath is familiar with the back side of the form where there are more spaces to list evidence. Heath verifies what’s up on the overhead screen appears to be the back side of the form. There are items on the form that appear to have been collected by Mahaney.

A copy of the evidence log is entered into evidence. It appears to be a second copy, a duplicate, listing all the items Mahaney collected but that’s all that’s on the form. There are no received or released information on the log. Heath verifies that the coroner’s office had freezers for storage of biological evidence collected. Anything that needed to be frozen. Anything that could deteriorate such as a blood swatch, a sex kit, etc. The coroner’s office kept them until released to an agency.

When items were dropped in the drop box, the items are already packaged in evidence envelopes. The evidence room never opened those envelopes. All the documentation for the item is obtained from the exterior part of the envelope. Based on the information on the envelope, they would put the item (where it needed to be stored) such as the freezers.

Heath knew Lloyd Mahaney as a criminalist. Heath’s name is on the bite mark swab envelope as received on February 25th, 1986 at 10:32 AM. This information matches the coroner’s evidence log. The documenting practice on the log and on the evidence envelope is always the same.

Nunez asks if investigating a new case, if an investigator would start off with an envelope that looked like a torn envelope. Heath answers, “No.”

Nunez then shows him one of the photos of the envelope that was taken under an alternate light source. And then showing his initials as receiving that envelope and that there is no information on the log that the item was released.

PN: What does that tell you?

RH: It tells me it was never released.

Direct ends and cross begins.

Overland asks him about the GSR kits that are listed on the log.

(I’m remembering from the preliminary hearing transcript that the GSR kits were located right before the prelim and Overland no longer had an issue with them. I’m wondering why he is pointing out the discrepancy on the log now.)

MO: If that log is correct, that GSR kit is still at the coroner’s?

RH: Correct.

MO: The other GSR kit, still appears (on? via?) the log?

(It should) still be in the coroner’s office.

Heath states that he can’t say honestly, specifically that he remembers receiving evidence (listed on this log). Heath has received literally thousands of items of evidence.

MO: So you’re relying on people’s #88, the accuracy of that log?

RH: Yes I am sir.

Overland now points out to Heath, where Mahaney listed on the log “Hair + Fibers” by left buttocks. FIBERS, plural. Also HAIRS, plural, collected from the neck. Bite mark SWAB, singular.

Then Overland shows Heath, people’s #88 again,

HAIR from right (singular)
HAIR from neck (singular)

Heath verifies that these were items also brought in by Mahaney. Heath states that the “release date” on the log looks like March 5th, 1986 but that would be a guess.

Cross is finished and there is no redirect.
#10 CARLOS CELAYA: Coroner’s office employee, photographer who photographed the body.

Nunez presents the direct examination.

Celaya is currently a deputy sheriff over 25 years. In 1986 he was employed by the LA County Corner’s office as a photographer for them. Regarding homicides, he would photograph traumatic injuries and identify homicide victims. When victims are brought to the coroner’s office, they are first photographed in the “forensic photography room”. In 1986 he had been working for the coroner’s office for five years. He had been trained four years before.

The decedent would be placed on a plastic table where they could be washed. A blue tag/card would be filled out with the coroner’s case number, the date and time and his initials. This tag would be placed so that it was included in the photographs of the body.

Typically, bodies would come into the coroner’s office clothed and they would be photographed clothed. Then he or his assistant would remove the clothing and place the clothing on butcher paper. Then the clothing would be placed in a drying cage. The cage is like a closet; it had hangers to hang the clothes in to dry. The cages are put in a locked room next to the photography room. This is the last time he sees the clothing.

Celaya is asked if he is familiar with Dr. Selser. He states he is. “She was one of the forensic pathologists at the time.” Several photographs are given to Celaya and he’s asked if they all come from the same autopsy in 1986. Yes. The case number is 86-2676. Celaya identifies his handwriting on the card.

People’s exhibit #109 is a photo of a human arm. His name is preprinted on the card.

Case #____________ and below that

More photos that he took of Rasmussen are introduced. People’s #110 is of the decedent’s face. #108 was of Rasmussen when she was clothed. Celaya verifies that there is a difference in the two photographs of Rasmussen’s face.

After the initial photo, then the body is cleaned and then the body is photographed again. The other photographs are not put up on the overhead screen. Then there is a comparison of photographs of the red robe. He testifies he recovered a bullet from the clothing. It’s a photo of Rasmussen’s back, on the table, still clothed. You can see a bullet in the photo. Celaya states he collected the bullet in the process of removing the clothing.

People: What did you do with that item?

CC: I handed the item to the doctor.

People: It was your understanding that those items he collected would be taken into evidence by the doctor?

CC: Yes.

There is no cross of this witness.

#11 DR. SUSAN SELSER: (Deputy Coroner, performed Rasmussen’s autopsy)

Nunez presents the examination of the witness.

Dr. Selser is a short woman, with short dark, mostly graying hair. She wears glasses.

Dr. Selser has been employed at the coroner’s office for over 27 years. Her CV is presented. She has performed over 7,000 autopsies. In 1986, she had performed over 100 homicides. She does not know how many autopsies. Approximately 60 of those 100 were gunshot victims. She performed Rasmussen’s autopsy in 1986. She recently re-reviewed he autopsy report she prepared in 1986.

Dr. Selser stated she examined the body clothed. She did see the body clothed. Another photo of Rasmussen on the table, clothed.

(I am immediately transported back to when I saw Lana Clarkson’s autopsy photos and a wave of sadness washes over me.)

People: Does the photo accurately reflect a picture of the body?

Dr. S: I believe it would, yes.

Dr. Selser performed an internal and external exam. She would do an external exam, document that exam then perform an internal exam.

Dr. Selser describes the three gunshot wounds on Rasmussen’s body. There were three entrance wounds on the front of the body and two exit wounds in the back of the body. The bullet(s?) she recovered were turned over to the evidence room.

She numbered the bullet wounds. The numbering is just for descriptive purposes, not the order given.

Wound #1 was to the mid chest. It was a fatal, through and through shot. Seventeen inches from the top of the head on the midline of the body. (To me, it looks like this shot went through her sternum but that’s just my guess.)

People’s #111 is a photo of Rasmussen’s head and torso. People’s #112 is a close up of the torso. Dr. Selser is asked to number the gunshot wound she identifies in her report on the photograph. She refers to her diagram form to number wound #1 on the photo.

In the two photos, the breasts and genital areas have been modified, with fuzzy looking squares over them. Overland won’t concede to this. Dr. Selser has to testify to it.

People’s #112, a single bullet in the center of the chest, one over the left breast and one in the lower abdomen area on the left side.

Wound #1 is consistent with a muzzle imprint contact wound, meaning it is right next to the skin or against the clothing. Selser indicates with the laser pointer, pointing out the darkening area on the skin indicative of the muzzle effect. This bullet exited the back. Dr. Selser explains the difference between entry and exit wounds.

On a shored exit wound, the body is pushed up against tight clothing or a floor. “Anything pushed up (that is) sufficient enough to cause the pushing out of the skin,” Dr. Selser clarifies.

Wound #2 is the left upper chest. Dr. Selser states she cannot tell which wound Rasmussen suffered first. On wound #2, we don’t see blackish soot on the wound.

People: You can’t determine the distance?

Dr. S: No, not by looking at the entry wound. (snip) There is a discernible hole and an area of abrasion as it rubs up against the body. (snip) This wound went through the aorta, also a fatal wound.

There would be internal bleeding from both wounds.

Wound #3 went through the heart and lung. The second gunshot wound was recovered beneath the skin. The bullet collected and entered into evidence. This was a through and through shot.

Dr. S: I describe it as a 9 millimeter silver flat nose gold base missile. (snip) (There’s) minimal deformity.

People: The item kept so a firearms expert can examine it?

Dr. S: It could be, yes.

She did not note soot or stippling on #2 or #3 wounds; an indeterminate distance. Dr. Selser is asked to explain soot.

Dr. S: Soot is black smoke.

There is no stippling on the skin and then Dr. Selser explains stippling.

People: Is stippling the kind of wound, trauma that can be stopped or (?) by clothing?

Dr. S: Yes.

Lazarus works at the defense table. She’s writing.

Dr. Selser explains how the bullets exited, or traveled through the body.

On the top right side of the back, bullet #1 exited. Bullet #3 is seen on the back left side.

Dr. Selser examined the left forearm of Rasmussen.

People: Did you see a pattern consistent to be with a bite mark?

Dr. S: Yes.

She identifies a photo of the bite mark. Her recollection, a forensic dentist or odontologist (examined? excised?)....

The afternoon break is taken at 2:42 PM. I chat with Pat LaLama. Overland and his daughter Courtney, are at sidebar with the judge.

3:01 PM the afternoon break is over, and Dr. Selser is being asked about the bite mark wound.

People: Do you see any uniformity to the wound?

Dr. S: It looks like it is one or two oral shapes, with small focal points of abrasions.

To Dr. Selser, it is consistent with a bite mark. She also did micro analysis. She took small pieces of the skin to look at under the microscope. She did observe bleeding into the tissues and no inflammatory response.

People’s #114, is a diagram from the autopsy report that goes with the bite mark on the arm and documented on the diagram.

Now Dr. Selser is being asked about injuries she saw on Rasmussen’s wrist area, and back of her wrists, arms.

On the left arm, there is a nonspecific parallel (line?). On the right back hand there is a linear pattern.

Dr. S: Yes, it could be consistent with a cord.

On the left arm there is one line. On the right arm two lines.

Dr. Selser states Ms. Rasmussen suffered many injuries. The injuries are documented through photographs. She doesn’t recall seeing the wounds specifically in the photographs she (just) looked at.

Specimens are routinely collected at autopsy then transported to the various (agencies/departments).

People #115

Dr. Selser describes the various wounds on Rasmussen’s hands. There were several different small cuts and abrasions on the hands. I list a few, but not all. On the left hand a small red purple abrasion under the thumb of first knuckle. Palm of the left hand, a one inch superficial cut, from something that had a sharp edge. There were several abrasions and small cuts on the hands, purple contusions measuring one inch, one-quarter inch and one-half inch.

Judge Perry asks her to read ALL her notes on the diagram into the record, which she does.

The wounds on the left hand, some of them could be from stippling. Dr. Selser is asked to describe lividity. is the effect of gravity where you can see areas of lividity (where blood pools in the body) after the heart stops.

Now going over the wounds to Rasmussen’s face. We saw in the photograph that there were lots of these on the head and face. Dr. Selser goes over her diagram that’s up on the overhead. Lots of small abrasions around the eye, over and below the (right) eye. Over the cheek area, beside the nose. They measure one quarter to three quarters inch in size. There is a 1/8” red purple abrasion on the chin. A small, little red petechia. There’s stippling on the neck, which suggested to her what it could possibly be. (I miss the answer.)

People’s #117 is a close up photo of the wounds around the right eye.

People’s #119, there is some blue stuff that is covering decedent’s right eye, that Dr. Selser states it’s possibly used to take impression of the eye. It looks like a playdough type of material to me.

People’s #120, which is a diagram of the side of Rasmussen’s face. They shaved her head on one side to better see the wounds on her scalp. There are lots of notes on this diagram of injuries to her head and face.

Dr. Selser states there were possibly up to three blunt force trauma contacts on the skull. There was no skull fracture or bleeding on the head. There was no fatal injury via the skull. No way to say how the individual suffered. Now going over more small wounds, abrasions, cuts. I note there is nothing on the diagram indicating the back of the skull. The injuries on the right side of the skull were around the ear.

On the inside of the mouth, where it attaches to bone the frenulum is torn. Just placing one’s hand over the mouth wouldn’t tear it (but possibly if the victim moved?)

There were no injuries to the genitalia, anal area. Counsel stipulated that there was no sexual assault that occurred in this case.

People’s #121, #122 These appear to be the expended bullet that fell from the back of the body. She booked these into evidence. Apparently the coroner has no independent memory of these bullets.

Her normal practice would be to label a coin envelope then place these items in an envelope.

Dr. Selser is asked to explain the “toe tag”. The coroner’s office routinely has a name and case number and tags on toes to indicate evidence was collected.

People’s #123, appears to be the outside of a toe tag. There’s a photo of another toe tag. Currently, the coroner’s office doesn’t use toe tags. These toe tags would document items collect from the body prior to autopsy.

Direct ends and cross begins.

She performed the autopsy on February 26th, 1986 around 10 AM. She doesn’t know that she has a noted time that she finished the autopsy.

MO: Consistent with is not the same as “is”?

Dr. S: Correct. It means it could be caused but... (snip)

MO: It means that it could be it doesn’t mean ‘definite’?

Dr. S: Yes.

You have to consider each individual instance or that it’s due to that one thing.

Lacerations = blunt force trauma (causing) tears of the skin. Causes the tissues to stretch. It’s not a cut.

Abrasion = is also blunt force trauma and is a scraping of the skin.

Contusion = if there was bleeding under skin of the above injury. She noticed all three types of injuries.

Overland asks her if she counted all the injuries. She doesn’t think she could give an approximation. It could have been a single impact that caused several injuries.

Dr. S: So, I don’t think it would give you a number of impacts.

As far as wounds go, Overland asks if there were more than fifty?

Dr. S: I listed in my report, up to approximately 29 and many descriptions have multiple areas. (I believe Overland asks her to count). Give me a just a minute. (snip) I would say it could be up to fifty areas (injured).

MO: Did you determine the height of the decedent and weight?

Dr. Selser didn’t measure herself, but it is in the coroner’s report.

Her height was 72” and weight 150 pounds.

Dr. Selser identifies a document with the initials LM. It’s the sexual assault kit. Dr. Selser did a trajectory of the wounds in relation to the victim’s body. There is no way she can determine the position the body was in at the time the shots were sustained. She can only describe the relative entrance wounds to the exit.

Dr. S: I can’t tell where the body was. I can only describe the path through the body relative to the shot itself.

Dr. Selser is shown people’s #109 and is asked about the pattern of injury. Dr. Selser states it is consistent with that of a bite mark. It “appears to be”.

Dr. S: I have limited experience (?) (snip) and it appears to be a bite mark. (snip) I don’t know if there would be any other reasonable explanation. (snip) If there was another object that could produce that pattern perhaps it could be consistent with that.

All we can see in the bite mark (image) is the surface. That just shows the skin surface.

MO: The reason it appears red is because there are abrasions?

Dr. S: The reason they appear red is because of breakage to the skin and bleeding.

MO: You saw this injury for the first time on February 26th?

Dr. S: Best of my recollection. I did not see the body before autopsy.

Cross is completed and then Judge Perry has some questions.

JP: The cause of death?

Dr. S: Multiple gunshot wounds.

JP: Each gunshot wound was fatal?

Dr. S: Yes.

JP: Was each individual wound disabling?

(I believe her answer is yes.) I think the people pick up the redirect but I don’t have it in my notes when that happened.)

Dr. S: Number 1. There’s not anything that would (cause? decedent? to?) fall to the ground immediately. There would be rapid loss of blood pressure. It would be a disabling injury. Not able to walk. Not a thoracic (injury?).

Number 3. Rapidly disabling injury. The victim could walk a short distance but not very far.

(I might have missed numbering one of the above sentences, or missed hearing her discuss wound #2.)

The trajectory. Wound #1 was from front to back, from her left side to her right side and slightly downward. Another wound was from front to back, slightly upward.

Overland recrosses the witness.

MO: Were you able to determine time of death?

Dr. S: There were any variables. I don’t think I can determine that. Between the last time she was known alive and found dead.

There’s no more questions for this witness and it’s right at the end of the day. Court is over.


Starbright said...

Sprocket - This is just like reading a true crime novel (only better)!! I do so enjoy your reporting. Thank you so much.