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Recent trial testimony highlights importance of expert witnesses

At a recent murder trial in Stroudsburg, the defense called two experts to testify on the issue of how the decedent died. A review of this testimony shows how such testimony can have a significant impact on the outcome of a trial. In this case, the expert testimony was used to undercut one of the essential elements of a murder charge by raising reasonable doubt about how the crime was committed.

The homicide in question occurred in 2008, when the dismembered remains of a woman were found in garbage bags at various places along Interstates 380 and 80 in Monroe and Lackawanna counties. The defendant was the decedent's boy friend, and he is on trial for criminal homicide and related crimes in connection with the woman's death.

The defendant did not deny dismembering the woman's body, but he asserted that she died from a drug overdose and that he did not kill her. To buttress this testimony, the defense called a pathologist to testify on the cause of death. The pathologist said that he found no traumatic injury to the woman's brain and that the condition of her neck and eyes did not suggest that she had been strangled. The doctor testified that his findings were ambiguous and that the cause of death could not be determined with any certainty.

The defense also called another pathologist, who testified to inconsistencies in the original autopsy report that could undermine any finding on the cause of death. While the second expert said that he believed the decedent had been beaten to death, he admitted that he could not find any white blood cells in the areas of trauma; the presence of such cells would show that the victim was alive when the body was bruised.

Medical testimony plays a large part in both criminal and civil trials. A defense attorney must know when and how to use expert testimony. In this case, the expert witnesses called by the defense were intended to raise reasonable doubt in the jurors' minds about the cause of death, thereby making a murder conviction difficult to obtain.

Source: Scranton Times-Tribune, "Expert witnesses disagree on cause of death at murder trial," Peter Cameron, Nov. 13, 2014

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