DC Medical Examiner Lois Goslinoski’s Triple Cross
We went to cover a trial today, but an anatomy lesson broke out.
The morning kicked off where yesterday’s session ended, with Joe Price counsel Bernie Grimm’s cross examination of DC Deputy Medical Examiner and the validity of her autopsy report on Robert Wone’s murder.
Although strong in his questioning, Dr. Goslinoski took Grimm to school, anatomy school to be precise.
Grimm: Would you agree that the heart is a pump?
Grimm: Would you agree that the aorta is a pumping unit?
Goslinoski: No. That’s the job of the ventricles.
Following Grimm was his colleagues Thomas Connolly and David Schertler. After the jump, how her testimony and findings fared.
Grimm pressed Goslinoski on the stab wounds’ paths (the organs and major vessels) in an effort to elicit her opinion on cadiac tamponade, the filling of the pericardial sac with blood. The defense has experts lined up who are going to testify that a single stab would to Robert’s heart would’ve rendered him unconscious and unable to move within seconds, perhaps within a heartbeat.
Not so according to Dr. Goslinowski. Tamponade would’ve been a risk at some point but she did not believe that it was the case in this stabbing. Grimm pressed her, “Do you agree that during tamponade, the pericardial sac constricts and stops the heart?” “At some point,” Goslinoski repeated, underscoring her opinion that it is not immediate. “In a matter of seconds?” Grimm asked again. Her reply again was no.
Previewing defense expert witnesses to come, Grimm asked if a cardiac surgeon or cardiologist could have a different opinion. “Anyone can have a different opinion,” she said. Under Grimm’s scenario, blood “gushed into the sac and the body cavities, but Goslinoski differed again. She used the word “seep.”
Asked specifically about knowing the defense experts, among them Dr. Farzad Najam, Goslinoski said she met with him but did not share his opinion on Robert being immediately incapacitated and rendered immobile. Goslinowski ruled out their experts’ opinions.
Grimm entered another stabbing victim’s autopsy report prepared by Goslinoski’s into the record to draw comparisons. He didn’t get very far with it. “John Doe” was stabbed in the heart and went into surgery before dying. Goslinoski said she had to remove sutures from his heart and was not aware of any indication of tamponade. She maintained there were too many differences between the two cases.
Victor Zaborsky counsel Thomas Connolly was next with his cross. And here we were thinking Bernie was going to play the Bad Cop. Connolly led with questions designed to take Goslinoski down a couple of doctor pegs: Have you done peer-review work? Have you submitted any for peer-review? Do you teach? Are you on a faculty? Are you board certified. Goslinoski’s responses were all the same, no in each case. Connolly asked if she had ever taken the certification test. Twice, Goslinoski tells him, not passing either time.
Connolly next went into the “missing blood,” and asked if her calculations accounted for any volume that may have been in the resuscitative chest tubes, left on the stretcher or the body bag Robert was transported in. Goslinoski said at most the tubes could’ve had 25ML.
Next he asked her about the reported blood stain on Robert’s index finger, was that an indication he was moving? Doubtful, Goslinoski said, “That could’ve come from the hospital (where he was treated).” The lack of movement was based on her wound observations: no defensive wounds, no irregularities, no drag marks. That the three knife wounds also had the same orientation and were confined to a small area made her opinions even stronger.
Ward counsel David Schertler brought up the rear and was the last to cross. He pressed her hard as to account for her conversations with AUSA Glenn Kirschner and the circumstances in which he brought a duplicate (missing carving set) knife to her office. Did Kirschner ask Goslinoski if that knife was consistent with a knife used in Robert’s attack? “Yes,” she replied, but also showing that she was not pressured to say declaratively, she added, “I cannot identify a specific knife that caused the wounds.” Could she state which of the two knives was more likely? No.
At this point Judge Lynn Leibovitz sensed the defense was trying to “make a case against the prosecutor,” and questioned the relevance. That seemed to cause the defense to back off their suggestions of the government strong-arming Goslinoski.
Schertler kept after her and asked if she’d ever witnessed a cardiac tamponade in progress or the severing of an aortic root, personally seeing its blood flow in progress. Only once or twice in medical school she said. It was then that without prompting, Goslinoski drew key distinctions between her work and that of a cardiac surgeon:
“It’s a different situation than the violent act of being stabbed. It’s a controlled environment with controlled blood loss, alertness and motion.
The scenarios are nor really comparable.”
Schertler wrapped by asking her if an article she read two or three days ago on tamponade informed her opinion. “No, it supports it,” she shot back.
Next, Judge Leibovitz questioned Goslinoski for about fifteen minutes. As finder of fact, she wanted to make certain she had a firm grasp on the anatomy, the knife’s paths, and what it might take to render a stabbing victim unconscious, in seconds as the defense contends or minutes as Goslinoski does.
Leibovitz posed a hypothetical question: If the defense experts are correct and Robert was unconscious in a second, would he have responded to pain reflexively? Yes, with the correct stimulus. “They do this in hospital with unconscious patients. If the neuro system was intact, they should respond, or if under the influence of a substance, that would not allow them to respond.”
Kirschner had a few minutes of redirect and used the time to rehabilitate his witness and that of his office, the somewhat veiled accusations from the defense that he pressured the Medical Examiner. He asked her how many times she met with the defense team. Once with all three, once with Grimm and Schertler and once separately with Grimm. Was she feeling any pressure from them, the prosecutor asked. “I was answering questions. “If that’s pressure, then yes.” Next he asked her if any prosecutor pressured her to say one thing or another, “I’ve answered questions,” was again her reply.
A last minute retro-objection from the defense team was raised in response to the Judge’s line of questioning. “If you have questions of mine that you object to, you should object,” Leibovitz said, implying they should do it in real-time rather than after the fact.
That was it for the afternoon and week. Glenn Kirschner was off to the US Attorneys Office to be “feted” as Leibovitz said this morning. “Congratulations on whatever it is,” she told him. We later learned that he is among several distinguished service award recipients that are being recognized later today.