a mystery novel
|This writing has not yet been rated and therefore this information is not yet available.|
Chapter 32 – The Medical Examiner Examined
Wednesday morning our forensic linguist testified that the crucial text had almost certainly been written by someone other than the victim, even ignoring her medical condition. He showed a number of her texts that had been recovered from her girlfriend’s phone and tediously illustrated several inconsistencies with her usual usage, especially word choice, in addition to not spelling out the numbers and using abbreviations.
On cross, the prosecutor got him to admit she could, of course, have changed her usage on that one text, possibly from being excited or nervous. However, he insisted that under stress people are more likely to conform to their established habits and that while it was certainly possible she had not done so, he considered it most improbable. Fortunately, he was one of those experts who get their backs up when their judgment is questioned by the laity and the more she questioned him the more adamant he became in maintaining his original opinion.
That afternoon our two forensic medical experts testified that Jeanie’s time of death was almost certainly well before midnight, despite the evisceration and regardless of how the air conditioning and heater had been manipulated in the intervening time while bringing the house back to a normal indoor temperature the way the first responders found it. The prosecutor tried to shake both of them, but with little result.
Thus ended another day.
* * *
The next morning I recalled the cop who had recovered Bixby’s disk and had her play the original once more for the jury, but this time starting at ten p.m. The prosecutor was just about to protest for the second time when the car appeared, turned into our driveway, paused for a moment, and then backed out and drove away. I asked the officer, “Now, if someone were watching, waiting for us to arrive home, might that someone have thought we had done so then?”
The prosecutor objected and we both sparred over whether that was calling for a conclusion outside the cop’s expertise. In the end, the judge sustained the objection, stating that the jury could decide that for themselves, but my point was made.
I then played that part of the tape again followed by the part showing us actually driving in and asked the officer if the color and shape of the earlier car was similar to ours. The prosecution and I went back and forth again until the judge again left it to the jury.
As I got ready to call our next witness, Tanya gave me a look. She disapproved of my strategy, thinking I would only antagonize the jury trying to dig out something that wasn't there and, even if it was, would not be found. However, my mind was made up. Time to end your torture, doctor, one way or the other. “The defense calls Dr. Rosen.”
The doctor slowly walked to the stand. The judge reminded him that he was still under oath. He nodded sullen acknowledgment. His face had a little glow – was he already starting to sweat, even before I asked him anything?
I started slowly, re-exploring how he established the Jeanie’s time of death. In response to my questions, and over a couple of halfhearted objections, the doctor described in painstaking detail the tests he performed, going through his notes line by line and illustrating on the autopsy photo blowups.
The judge asked if I had much more for the doctor and when I replied, “Oh, Yes! I certainly do.” he recessed court for the day. Good: another night for the good doctor to sweat.
* * *
Next morning the doctor was back on the stand, glowing again. At my prodding, he explained the effects of any change in room temperature – say by someone turning the air conditioner down low or the heater up high for a couple of hours – between the time she was killed and when the liver and other critical body temperatures were first measured, considering that the temperature had to have returned to normal by the time the first responders arrived. We then spend a considerable time discussing the effects of the body being cut open on those temperatures.
My examination dragged on long enough to nearly put me to sleep, and probably the jury as well. With any luck, the prosecution wasn't immune. “Now, Dr. Rosen, you've given us a lot of technical information on establishing time-of-death, and particularly the tests performed and how you interpreted the results. Tell me, in this regard, did you have anything available to you that wasn't available to the other examiner?”
“Ah, no, she ha…”
Oh, Yes! The prosecutor was only a second or two slow on the draw, but it was enough. She nearly screamed, “Objection, objection! Improper cross; assumes facts not in evidence!”
The jury was awake now! I shrugged and put on my puzzled face, “But, your honor, I would remind the District Attorney that I called Dr. Rosen as my witness from my witness list: this is an examination, not a cross-examination, so the prosecutor should know her grounds for objecting do not apply.”
“But he was our witness and the defendant did reserve the right to recall him…”
“Yes, but the doctor is on his witness list and he did call him, not recall him. Therefore your objection on improper cross is overruled. However, as far as facts not in evidence,…”
“OK, OK, your honor. Withdrawn, then. Let me ask you this, doctor: did any person, any medical person, examine Ms. Rogers' body at the crime scene or soon after you got back to the lab and estimate, formally or informally, her time-of-death, other than yourself?”
“Objection! Improper… Ah, beyond the scope.”
“Your honor, surely I'm entitled to inquire into all inputs that might have influenced Dr. Rosen's stated opinion, including any possible opinions of others. Especially, since we now know there was at least one other person who might have expressed her opinion.”
The judge shrugged and said to the prosecutor, “I'm afraid that cat is out of the bag, counselor. Objection overruled,” then to the witness, “You may answer the question.”
“Ah, yes. Dr. Yuan did, but she just made a cursory preliminary examination at the scene.”
“And this 'cursory preliminary' examination was prior to yours, was it not?”
“Yes, but I was there and aware of her information.”
“All right. And what was her conclusion as to the time-of-death after this preliminary exam? If she expressed any such conclusion to you.”
“Ah, I believe she said something like nine p.m to midnight.”
“Maybe she said exactly from nine-thirty to eleven-thirty p.m.?”
“Did you concur with that opinion?”
“Ah, I… because of the condition of the body, I didn't want to speculate. I waited until we were back at the coroner's lab where I could do a more complete examination, using the tests I described, before arriving at my opinion.”
“But you did not give a conflicting estimate to the police officers who were about to question neighbors, did you?”
“Ah, no, I don't recall doing so.”
“In, fact, doctor, you were the one who gave the estimate of nine-thirty to eleven-thirty to the police at the scene, were you not?”
“Ah, possibly – yes, I believe so. I, ah, don’t really remember. I was relying on Dr. Yuan’s estimate then. It was only a preliminary estimate anyway.”
“But you knew it would be used by police in their questioning of possible witnesses, didn’t you?”
“Oh, well, yes.”
“So it was important. If there was uncertainty, you would err on the side of a wider time window, to make sure to include the relevant time, would you not?”
“Well, sure, but, on site, I mean, with the way she was cut, we couldn’t really…”
“I believe you’ve made your point, Mr. MacIntyre. Move on,” the judge said as the prosecutor was standing to object.
“All right, your Honor,” Oh, the doctor was glowing now! “To your knowledge, did Dr. Yuan also perform tests at the lab?”
“Ah, yes, I believe she may have.”
Now for the big gamble, “And did she also change her opinion of the time of death as you did, if you know?”
He had to mop his face before he answered – jurors, are you paying attention? “Um, as I recall, she did not. But I believe, ah, she might not have allowed sufficiently for the effects of the body being eviscerated.”
Yes! Now to close the deal, “Did you explain to her where she erred?”
“Ah, as I recall, I directed her to some appropriate studies on such effects.”
“Now, your opinion – your updated, second opinion, that is – did you arrive at it before or after you were informed that the main suspect had an alibi that lasted until nearly one a.m.?”
“Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence!”
“Sustained; the jury will disregard the question.”
“OK. Dr. Rosen, were you at any time informed or did you otherwise learn that any person involved in the investigation into Ms. Rogers' death had an alibi for any specific period of time?”
“Ah, yeah, it might have been mentioned.”
“Mentioned by whom?”
“Ah, I'm not sure. It was just in general conversation.”
“Conversation with whom?”
“Well, the detectives were there, and maybe other ME personnel.”
“By 'detectives' you mean Detectives Madero and Gorman? They were both there?”
“Yeah, I believe so.” By now he was wiping his forehead continually.
“And who mentioned time in relation to an alibi?”
“Ah, I'm not sure; one of them. It was just, like, in passing. I didn't pay that much attention.”
“I’m sure.” I saw the judge glance at the wall clock; it was noontime but he said nothing about recessing and the jury seemed to be paying rapt attention so I went on, “Now, think carefully: was this before you formed your opinion of the time-of-death? Before you revised your opinion, that is.”
“Ah, possibly; it could have been. I didn't pay it any mind; it didn't influence my
“Of course not. Now this Dr. Yuan: she's an assistant ME, like yourself?”
“No. She's an intern.”
“But she is a doctor?”
“And she made some of the same tests you made, like taking the liver temperature, to…”
“Objection! The witness cannot testify as to what someone else did unless he observed it himself. That is not in evidence.”
“Sustained; the jury will disregard.”
“All right. Dr. Rosen, as an intern, Dr. Yuan would be under the supervision of an experienced examiner, would she not?”
“And who supervised her at that time… if you know?”
“Ah, I did.”
“And as you testified you were with her at the crime scene, weren’t you?”
“Yes, but only for a short while. After the preliminary examination I left Dr. Yuan there to finish up.”
“So it was during this 'preliminary examination' in your presence that Dr. Yuan estimated the time of death? An opinion you agreed with to the point of passing it on to the police?”
“Ah, Yes, but as I said…”
“Thank you. Since you had enough confidence in Dr. Yuan to leave her alone at such a crime scene, you must feel that she is proving to be a competent and conscientious trainee – is that the case?”
“Ah, yes, she is.”
“And you are, of course, a competent and conscientious supervisor?”
“I hope so. I certainly try to be.”
“So, would Dr. Yuan make… scratch that. In your normal procedure, would Dr. Yuan have recorded the results of any tests she performed and her interpretation of those results contemporaneously?”
“Objection! Calls for…”
“But, your honor…”
“I said overruled! You may answer.”
“That would be normal procedure, yes.”
“And would it be normal procedure for her to sign such records?”
“Have you ever known Dr Yuan to ignore such procedures?”
“And, as her supervisor, you carefully monitor her adherence to procedures, do you not?”
“And if she did not fully comply with such procedures consistently, you would not consider her competent and conscientious, as you have just testified you so consider her, would you? Competent enough to be left alone at what was obviously a major crime scene?”
“So then, you would expect that a signed record of the tests and interpretations made by Dr. Yuan would be in the ME's file on Ms. Rogers, correct?”
“Objection! Calls for speculation…”
“But, your honor…”
He didn’t even wait for my protest, “Overruled! Answer the question!”
“Ah, well, I suppose so, yes.”
“So, where is it? I didn't find it in the file you provided us in response to our subpoena for that complete file.”
“Objection! Defense is testifying!”
“Yes, but he's asking questions I want answered, too. Overruled.”
“Ah, I… I don't know. Maybe… maybe it got misfiled. Or thrown away.”
“Thrown away! Dr. Rosen, is that proper procedure?”
“No, of course not! But, sometimes it could happen, for preliminary reports.”
“You mean, sometimes when a report doesn't help the police?… Withdrawn.”
“What? You should be flattered he's learning from you. But, don't push it, Mr. MacIntyre. The jury will disregard Mr. MacIntyre's last comment.”
I just nodded, unable to bring myself to apologize. However, I did manage not to smile. Sure, the jury has now completely erased my comment from their memories. “OK, Dr. Rosen, I presume you will search for that report when you leave the stand here, but in the meantime, why was Dr. Yuan’s name not on the list provided to the defense of those present at the crime scene on the night of the murder?”
“Ah, I don’t know. That must have been an oversight.”
“Is that also why she was not on the list of those who had access either to Ms. Rogers' body or to the reports of those who did have such access? Another oversight?”
“Ah, I guess so. I mean, she's just an intern.”
“And she still is your intern?”
“OK, so where is she right now? If you know.”
“I don't know where she is. She's on vacation.”
“Really? How long has she worked for your office?”
“Ah, about seven months now.”
“And she already earned a vacation? Must be nice!” I glanced at the jury, hoping they were thinking what I was. “And just when did this vacation begin?” I expected an objection but none came. I guess the DA realized trying to forestall the inevitable would only make them appear to be concealing evidence, if it wasn't already obvious.
“Ah, a couple of weeks or so ago.”
“So, just about the time this trial started. Now she’s having a nice long vacation after only seven months on the job – great way to avoid a subpoena… Withdrawn. Sorry, your Honor; couldn't resist.”
“Do try to restrain yourself.” His lip twitched.
“Yes, sir. Now, Dr. Rosen, did you or anyone else to your knowledge order or suggest to Dr. Yuan that she should take this vacation? And when?” The prosecutor jumped up, then just stood silently for a moment and sat down.
“Ah, well, vacations might have come up in conversations, you know, like where people had gone or wanted to, the best times, things like that. But I don't know that anybody told her to go, and I surely didn't.”
“OK, Dr., just one more question and I'll let you off the hook. For now. The prosecutor asked the medical examiners called by the defense in how many cases they had testified for the prosecution. So now I’ll ask you: in how many cases have you testified for the defense?”
“Thank you, doctor. Your Honor, I have nothing more for this witness at this time, but I would like to reserve the right to recall him. I also request you to direct him to locate any reports or notes prepared by Dr. Yuan – or anyone else in his office, for that matter – that involve the Victim in this case and which have so far been withheld from the defense, and provide copies of the same to the defense. In addition, I request your Honor to instruct the prosecution to locate Dr Yuan forthwith and make her available to the defense as a witness.””
“The witness is excused, subject to recall. You will keep yourself available, doctor, and you will personally locate the documents Mr. MacIntyre described and provide copies to the defense forthwith, or be prepared to convince me there is a good reason for your failure to do so. You will also assist the prosecution as necessary to locate and retrieve Dr. Yuan from her vacation.” The doctor nodded repeatedly and then scurried from the room, undoubtedly rushing to change his shirt – and probably his underwear as well. The judge then glanced pointedly at the wall clock before continuing, “Since it's after twelve, we'll take our noon recess now; please escort the jury out. Everyone else stay put for a minute.”
Once the door closed behind the jury, his voice hardened as he said, “I'll see all counsel in chambers. The court is in recess until three pm.”
The DA protested, “Sorry, your honor, but I have a lunch engage…”
“Not anymore, you don't!” the judge snapped, “My chambers! Now!” then, to the court reporter who looked at him questioningly, “No, Ms. Reporter, we won't need you this time,” and he left the bench with haste.