Illinois' murder trial of the century

Pathologist "Vehemently" Disagrees With State Witness

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Defense witness contradicts opinion of respected colleague. (Published Tuesday, Aug 28, 2012)

    Drew Peterson's defense attorneys on Tuesday rolled out two forensic pathologists who offered testimony in direct contrast to what jurors heard last week, including one who said he "disagree[d] vehemently" with the opinion of a respected colleague.

    Doctors Jeffrey Jentzen and Vincent DiMaio separately said their opinions were that Kathleen Savio died by an accidental drowning after slipping and falling in her tub.

    "As I mentioned before, this is a classic injury caused by a fall, especially in an area where there are numerous areas for the body to strike," said Jentzen, who up until 2008 was the chief medical examiner in Milwaukee.

    Savio's ex-husband, Drew Peterson, is fighting first-degree murder charges in connection with Savio's March 2004 death.

    While Jentzen's and DiMaio's testimony echoed each other in many ways, they differed in one: the typical dynamics of a fall. Jentzen explained that someone falling backward would hit the top portion of the body first and then the lower portion. DiMaio said the reverse, adding that the lower portion of the body would absorb some of the energy.

    But, DiMaio said: "People fall in different ways."

    Savio had a laceration to her head and bruising to the left side of her body. Jentzen said those injuries were consistent with how her body was positioned in the tub.

    His testimony was in contrast to that offered last week by Dr. Larry Blum, who performed the second autopsy on Savio's body. As a witness for the prosecution, Blum said someone falling in the tub would have spread their extremities in an attempt to break their fall. Additionally, he said the tub's edges were not pronounced enough to cause the two-inch, straight-line wound on her head

    Jentzen refuted that opinion.

    Given the shape and size of the tub, "there simply would not be any room to have the arms and legs displayed outward," he said.

    "She's lying in a fetal position basically because she's longer than the tub is," he added.

    Jentzen later said he "vehemently" disagreed with the opinion provided last week by Dr. Mary Case -- a neuro-pathologist whom he respects and with whom he's co-authored reports -- arguing that Case was confusing the symptoms of a concussion and a severe injury.

    "There was no brain trauma ... no internal brain injury that would have caused a loss of consciousness," Case said a week ago.

    Had Savio been knocked unconscious, Case said, there would have been evident damage to her brain. Case found none.

    But Jentzen said some forms of brain damage -- known as diffuse axonal injury -- can only become evident if the victim remains alive for several hours after injury.

    Both Jentzen and DiMaio said Savio may have had that type of injury, but it was undetectable under microscopic review because she died too quickly.

    "She was in a bathtub. She slipped and fell. She struck the left side of her body and her head violently on the side of the tub," said Jentzen. "She sustained a head injury, she was rendered unconscious and in an unconscious state she slipped under and drowned."

    Jentzen and DiMaio said that while they're being paid for their review and testimony, it hasn't influenced their opinions.

    NBC Chicago has reporters in the Will County Courthouse for the trial. During proceedings, follow along with our Drew Peterson Trial Live Blog or follow @bjlutz on Twitter.