Medical examiner testifies at Gulbertson homicide trial

Published 6:43 am Tuesday, April 20, 2010

FARIBAULT — Thirty-eight-year-old Jody Lee Morrow received at least 18 blunt-force blows to her head and three stab wounds on her neck during the altercation that ultimately led to her death, medical examiner Lindsey Thomas testified Monday in the homicide trial against Chad Jamie Gulbertson.

In what was the first day of testimony in Gulbertson’s trial, Thomas — who is contracted to work as a medical examiner in Freeborn County through the Regina Medical Center — described the extent of wounds that Morrow received June 21, 2009.

She said on the day of Morrow’s death she and others from her office were called to Albert Lea after authorities found Morrow dead inside her trailer at 730 Larimore Circle, which is in the Rainbow Terrace trailer court on the south end of the city.

She said she did not go into the trailer until Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension officials arrived, but when she did so, she first saw Morrow lying on the floor in front of her wheelchair — a foot or two away was a ball-peen hammer.

Morrow had diabetes, and her right leg below the knee had been amputated. Her left foot had two toes amputated and was suffering from an ongoing infection.

Morrow was dressed in a long, short-sleeved night shirt, she said.

Thomas noted that the trailer was “extremely cluttered,” and it was difficult to move around. While she did not see any cats, she “could certainly smell them.”

The next day, after conducting an autopsy of Morrow, Thomas said she found the woman had extensive injuries, including blunt-force injuries to the head — many of which were associated with underlying skull fractures, bruising to the brain and even a laceration to the brain — stab wounds, a superficial slash across the throat and other incisions. Morrow also had injuries on both hands.

Thomas said “practically every bone” in Morrow’s skull was fractured.

Ultimately, Morrow’s cause of death was deemed to be the result of head injuries by means of homicide, Thomas testified.

The medical examiner said she thinks Morrow received the stab wounds before the blows to the head with the hammer because there was bleeding in the lungs — a reaction to her being alive — that resulted from these wounds. The woman was alive when all of the stab wounds were incurred and at least some of the blows were incurred because there was bruising and bleeding to the brain.

She said Morrow was conscious while at least some of the blows were inflicted but at some point was knocked unconscious. The blunt-force injuries were not survivable.

She noted she thinks Morrow was in her wheelchair while the injuries occurred because of the way the blood ran down her shirt from her head. There was also blood on the wheelchair consistent with this.

“I believe her death would have incurred rapidly … in a matter of minutes,” Thomas said.

Morrow also had a bone fracture on the middle finger of her left hand, which is consistent with a defensive injury, the medical examiner testified, though she cannot ultimately determine where Morrow’s hand was at the time the injuries were inflicted.

Morrow’s toxicology reports came back negative for drugs of abuse and as a .01 alcohol level in her urine. This alcohol level came back negative in her blood.

Thomas said alcohol levels can sometimes be .01 in urine because of a postmortem trait.

The medical examiner said she did recall from the woman’s medical history that Morrow was prescribed an anti-depressant and anxiety-reducing medication.

Thomas’ statements followed opening statements by both the prosecution and defense in the case.

During the opening statement by the prosecution, Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Bill Klumpp went through each of the crimes Gulbertson has been charged with — including three first-degree murder charges and two second-degree murder charges — and said he plans to prove that Gulbertson intended to kill Morrow and that he premeditated the act.

Gulbertson also had a past pattern of abuse that the prosecution plans to prove, Klumpp said.

Gulbertson’s lawyers described their client as a man who was “broken, who was sad,” who went to Morrow that night asking for forgiveness but instead “got a blow to the head.”

They alleged that Morrow tried to attack Gulbertson, and Gulbertson acted in the heat of passion to repel that attack — a “reflex reaction.”

They pointed out that all of the charges against him require proof of his intention or premeditation.

Officer testimony

At the conclusion of testimony Monday, Albert Lea officer Al Schnaith took the stand, testifying about what he saw as the first officer to arrive at Morrow’s trailer the day of her death.

He said he got a call the morning of June 21, 2009, from a fellow officer asking him to check on the welfare of Morrow.

When he arrived at the mobile home, he found it was locked and there were no lights on in the house. All the windows were covered.

He said he pounded on the door hoping to get some response. After giving the door a couple of kicks, he realized it wasn’t coming open, he said, and tried to pry it open with a shovel.

After that didn’t work, he called for assistance from the Albert Lea Fire Department. It took three firefighters to pry open the door, Schnaith said.

When he opened the door, there was a second door that was closed but not locked.

When he swung open the door, it was extremely dark inside, he said. He found Morrow’s body lying on the floor covered with what looked to be dried blood.

She was cold to the touch.

Schnaith said a foot or two away was a ball-peen hammer, and Morrow was next to her wheelchair, both of which were covered with blood.

Schnaith’s testimony will continue first Tuesday morning.

Also expected to testify Tuesday are another Albert Lea officer, the manager of the Rainbow Terrace trailer park and a man who resided in the park.