August 28, 2012

Peterson witness: 3rd wife died accidentally

Michael Tarm Associated Press
 

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — A forensic pathologist testified for the defense Tuesday that he’s convinced Drew Peterson’s third wife died of an accidental fall in the bathtub and wasn’t murdered, countering earlier testimony by state witnesses that her 2004 death appears to have been a homicide.

Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen told jurors that a gaping wound on the back of Kathleen Savio’s head and bruising on her left side were telltale signs that she slipped and fell. To illustrate, he displayed a poster board with a figure in three stages of an accidental fall. He also stood in the witness box to demonstrate on his own body where Savio’s wounds were located.

“These injuries are classic for a fall. … or a slip and fall,” he said.

Peterson, 58, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Savio’s death. Her body was found in a dry bathtub at her suburban Chicago home. But her death was only reclassified from an accident to a homicide after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007. He is suspected but not charged in her disappearance.

Jentzen’s testimony contradicts that of pathologist Dr. Larry, a star witness for the state. Blum testified that he didn’t believe a single, fatal fall could possibly cause both the gash on Savio’s head and the bruising on her front.

Jentzen, the director of pathology at the University of Michigan medical school, challenged other state testimony.

Blum had testified, for instance, that the position of Savio’s body in the bathtub — her legs jammed up against its sides — suggested her death couldn’t have been accidental. Jentzen disagreed, saying Savio’s body and legs could have settled against the tub walls into the odd position as it lay there for hours after death.

He also took issue with another state witness, Dr. Mary Case. She told jurors the two-inch, cut-like wound on Savio’s head caused no noticeable damage to her brain and so couldn’t have caused her to pass out and drown.

“I disagree vehemently with this opinion. … She’s wrong,” Jentzen said about Case’s testimony. He said a person can lose consciousness from a concussion and not necessarily show any sign of brain trauma.

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Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm

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