The Medical examiner’s testimony in Knoxville trial

David B. linked this article last week in his running account of the Knoxville trial, but it would be easy to miss it, so I’m reproducing it here.

Doctor testifieds about extent of couple’s injuries; one killer “unlikely”

As horrific as the injuries were that Knox County’s chief medical examiner saw when she examined the bodies of this young couple, it was the wounds she didn’t see that struck her most.

“I’ve never seen a case with this array of injuries when you didn’t have some measure of resistance,” Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan told jurors in Knox County Criminal Court on Friday.

Yet, there was not one bruise on Christopher Newsom’s body, not one broken fingernail on Channon Christian’s hands to indicate either tried to defend themselves or escape, she said.

“It’s just hard to believe a healthy young girl would not have resisted,” she said. “I’ve never seen it … It would be hard to believe … no running away or kicking (by Newsom, whose hands were bound). What has he got to lose?”

The lack of defensive wounds combined with the severity of the injuries, the length of the attacks and the elaborateness of the bindings left this medical examiner with only one conclusion.

“It is hard to imagine one person could do all this,” Mileusnic-Polchan told jurors. “It would be highly unlikely to be one person acting alone.”

The medical examiner’s graphic, chilling testimony detailed what Christian, 21, and Newsom, 23, suffered after their January 2007 kidnapping. Her testimony capped the end of the state’s weeklong case against suspect Letalvis Cobbins.

Cobbins is the first of four defendants to be tried. He faces death if convicted. Awaiting trial are his brother and alleged ringleader Lemaricus Davidson, Cobbins’ girlfriend Vanessa Coleman and friend George Thomas. Accused but so far uncharged is Eric Boyd, serving an 18-year prison term for his conviction in federal court to being an accessory to the carjacking that launched the crime spree that claimed the couple’s life.

Cobbins contends it was Davidson and Boyd who kidnapped the couple, Boyd who raped and killed Newsom, and Davidson who sexually savaged Christian and stuffed her to die by suffocation inside a trash can in his Chipman Street house. He insists neither he nor Thomas nor Coleman had any idea of what the pair planned. He concedes orally raping Christian and the lesser crimes of facilitating the fatal crime spree by failing to stop it.

Prosecutors Takisha Fitzgerald and Leland Price counter that Cobbins was an equal partner-in-crime with big brother Davidson and the others. Cobbins was, Price argued later Friday, “up to his neck” in involvement in the attacks.

That debate between the prosecutors and defenders Scott Green and Kim Parton made Mileusnic-Polchan’s opinions—given the legal weight of expert testimony—vital.

That clear in Green’s cross-examination when he pushed the doctor on her assertion that each of these slayings could not have been the work of one person.

She pushed back.

The showdown

It had all the markings of a classic clash of legal titans.

A Croatian by birth and U.S. citizen by choice, the slightly built doctor has never been accused of timidity among the defense bar. She delivers testimony with an air of authority. Her accent is strong, and she talks fast. She speaks directly to the jury. She rarely hesitates in her answers, and she isn’t afraid to argue, even when she draws a gentle rebuke from a judge.

Green is a former prosecutor. He still adopts the style he learned, first as a protegee of Sevier County’s capital murder king Al Schmutzer Jr. and second as Knox County prosecution chief Randy Nichols’ go-to guy. His voice booms. He uses questions like tools, a scalpel when carving out a point for his side or a hammer when smashing through a wall of resistance.

On Friday, Green needed to do both with Mileusnic-Polchan’s cross-examination, cutting slices of opinion minimizing Cobbins’ alleged role and bashing the notion that Christian and Newsom could not have died without his help.

She refused to budge, however.

“You can’t say Letalvis Cobbins caused any injuries suffered by (the couple),” Green pressed.

“A forensic pathologist is never called to court to point a finger at a (particular) defendant,” she countered. “A forensic pathologist comes to court to speak for the victims. I’m not here to tell you who did what. I’m here to tell you how they suffered, and (these attacks) took a long time.”

The suffering

Using gruesome photographs displayed on a movie-size screen, Mileusnic-Polchan detailed that suffering in a courtroom packed with relatives and friends of the slain couple.

Newsom, she said, was raped both by an object and at least one person. DNA tests were inconclusive as to identity. The sexual assault would have occurred soon after the kidnapping and, at most, a couple of hours before his death, she said.

His hands were tied behind his back. His ankles eventually were bound with a belt. Socks were stuffed in his mouth. A bandana was tied around his eyes. A sweatshirt was placed over his head and tied with his own shoelaces around his neck. He was shot three times—once in the lower back, once in the upper back shoulder near his neck, and once execution-style to the side of his head. His body was then set on fire.

Mileusnic-Polchan said Christian was kept alive for more than 12 hours and perhaps as long as a full day. The attack on her took place over time, she said.

Early on in the attack, she was orally raped, causing a membrane in her mouth to be torn, the doctor testified. She was raped vaginally and anally—more than once—over the course of her captivity, Mileusnic-Polchan said. At some point a few hours before her death, someone attacked her genital region, likely kicking her and perhaps even striking that area with an object, she said.

“This was no simple rape,” she said.

Christian was hog-tied and her lower body stuffed inside five different large black trash bags. A small white plastic grocery bag was wrapped around her face, and she was pushed down into a trash can. The medical examiner said she suffocated to death. Her eyes were still partially open when she died.

Closing arguments are expected to begin today.

Jamie Satterfield may be reached at 865-342-6308.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 26, 2009 08:10 AM | Send

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