Doctor erred in testimony about machete blow
During the ninth day of the murder trial of Arturo Navarrete-Portillo, who’s admitted to killing his wife with a machete, Public Defender Elise Myer asserted that a mistake in testimony from a forensic pathologist raised the threat of a mistrial.
In the early morning of Feb. 16, 2015, after a day and a night of drinking, Navarrete-Portillo killed his wife in their Carbondale apartment. He admitted this after surviving a suicide attempt via car crash.
Navarrete-Portillo faces a first-degree murder charge, which is defined as a homicide carried out intentionally and after deliberation. The defense argues the killing was not done with deliberation but committed in a “sudden heat of passion,” which fits criteria for a second-degree murder conviction.
Dr. Robert Kurtzman, the forensic pathologist who examined the victim’s body, testified Tuesday. His evaluation found that Maria Carminda Portillo-Amaya had been struck between five and 10 times, Myer recounted Friday.
One of these blows from the machete nearly severed Portillo-Amaya’s spinal cord. But it’s unknown when this critical blow would have come; it could have been the first or last strike, or anywhere in between.
At the end of his testimony Kurtzman was asked by the jury whether this critical blow from the machete would have made the victim unable to breathe.
On the witness stand, Kurtzman answered no.
But at about 7 a.m. Friday the doctor called Deputy District Attorney Matthew Barrett to say that after reviewing his notes, he believed he gave incorrect testimony.
Kurtzman said he did believe this blow would have made the victim unable to breathe.
Examinations also found some blood in her lungs, which showed that she had breathed to some degree after being struck with the weapon — though apparently not after this critical blow.
Because Kurtzman has already caught a flight out of state, the prosecution requested that the court allow him to correct his testimony by phone or Skype.
But this change in testimony is an important opportunity for cross examination that the defense is being denied if the doctor is not required to testify again in person, said Myer.
A major contention of the defense is that this was a “lightning-quick” attack. Myer said this change in evidence favors the defendant.
Hearing that a victim was continuing to breath after such an attack, perhaps choking on her own blood for an unknown time, is a hard thing for the jury to hear on top of having to view many gruesome images, said Myer.
The doctor was imprecise about how long it would have taken Portillo-Amaya to die as a result of these injuries. The doctor testified that it could have been seconds or minutes, said Judge James Boyd.
Myer argued that Barrett’s knowledge of the doctor’s correction makes him a witness, and because the defense cannot call him to testify, these are grounds for a mistrial.
Boyd agreed that Kurtzman will have to testify in person, and Barrett assured the court the doctor would be present Monday.
The jury also heard testimony Friday from one of the victim’s sisters, Maria Arely Portillo-Amaya.
The prosecution called the sister to testify about threats they say Navarrete-Portillo made in the months prior to the killing.
In the midst of an argument, Navarrete-Portillo texted his wife threats that he would kill her when he saw her next, the sister testified.
Later, but still months before the killing, the victim told her sister that Navarrete-Portillo had told her that he would kill himself in a car crash, according to the victim’s sister.
Boyd said there’s a good chance presentation of evidence will continue into Wednesday.
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