A day after a jury viewed gruesome photos of a 5-year-old’s fractured skull, the defense attorney for accused killer Cynthia L. Khaleel brought his own medical expert to suggest that the blow that ended the boy’s troubled life could have come from a short fall.
Dr. Carl Wigren, a forensic pathologist who performs autopsies for both public and private clients, dominated the testimony Wednesday in the second-degree murder trial of Khaleel, 31, who is accused of causing the blunt-force injury that fractured the skull of her adoptive nephew, Gary Blanton III, who died in April 2015.
Defense attorney Bevan Maxey called Wigren to counter testimony from Dr. John Howard, who testified yesterday. Howard, who rotates each year as the Spokane County medical examiner, had determined that Gary’s death was the result of homicidal violence that caused one of the worst fractured skulls he’d seen in 31 years of performing autopsies.
Maxey asked Wigren if the fractured skull that eventually killed the boy could have started with a fall from him climbing on his little brother’s crib, as Khaleel described to investigators.
“(The injuries) are completely consistent with that,” Wigren said. “Skull fractures can start from a point of impact and, just like a crack in your windshield, radiate out.”
The boy’s father, Gary Blanton Jr., was slain in 2012 by a killer stalking registered sex offenders in Clallam County. The boy’s mother, Leslie Blanton, died in 2014 from complications from a drug addiction.
Khaleel is the sister of Gary Blanton Jr. and sought custody of Gary, his younger brother and half-sister after their parents’ death.
The investigation began when Khaleel called 911 on April 17, 2015, saying Gary was unresponsive some three hours after he took a nasty fall.
Wigren said that many of the injuries, such has bleeding on the interior membranes of the brain, could have resulted from the initial fall and not from someone striking Gary with tremendous force, as investigators suggested.
“You have to be cautious about overinterpreting ear bruising when you have a skull fracture,” Wigren said. “Especially with a clotting disorder … we are going to see blood where we don’t expect.”
He explained that the tough lining under the skull has a series of veins that drain the blood from the brain and send it back down to the heart. Sometimes a sudden impact can rupture those vessels and cause bleeding that starts a “chain of events.”
“There is a finite amount of blood that can collect in the brain,” Wigren said. “The brain is swelling and the blood has nowhere to go. And that secondary injury can be misinterpreted as a primary injury.”
Deputy Spokane County prosecutors Kelly Fitzgerald and Deric Martin also said Gary suffered abdominal bleeding that was consistent with suffering a kick from an adult.
But again, Wigren said his findings didn’t support that theory. He noted that Gary, who had a condition in which his blood did not clot properly, had no bruises on his abdomen.
“The liver has no lacerations. The spleen has no injuries to it,” Wigren said. “You see soft tissue bleeding, which is very suspect with this bleeding disorder.”
Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, questioned Wigren’s credentials, the number of autopsies he’s performed on children and noted that he gets paid by defense attorneys to render opinions.
She noted that, while Wigren agreed that Gary’s injuries could have been inflicted, he didn’t include that possibility in his report.
Wigren agreed, saying that the defense attorney “wanted me to evaluate whether a short fall could cause these devastating injuries.”
“You have to realize that skull fractures can occur from short falls and cause devastating damage,” he said.