Eacker trial ongoing

Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stabbing someone five times through the heart with a screwdriver would not likely produce geysers of blood, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy of Toni Lister's body testified Wednesday.

Doctor Michael Propst's testimony could be troubling for the defense in the Jimmy Eacker murder trial, which has repeatedly attempted to connect Eacker's nearly bloodless clothes to his innocence.

During defense attorney David Weber's cross-examination of Propst, the forensic pathologist said it would have been possible for Lister to bleed profusely during the 1982 killing.

But during prosecuting attorney Pat Gullufsen's direct examination of Propst, Propst explained why he did not think blood would have sprayed during the stabbing, comparing a screwdriver to a drill.

"As opposed to a knife, a Phillips-head screwdriver is a much more blunt instrument without a cutting edge. It penetrates down its long axis tending to crush and move aside tissues and tissue planes more than it cuts tissues and tissue planes."

Propst said the human body would tighten as the screwdriver is removed.

"In general, the tissue planes tend to close up and collapse against one another," Propst testified.

The autopsy report showed Lister's body contained approximately 26 stab wounds. The body was discovered in the woods near the Seward dump more than a month after Lister's husband reported her missing.

Propst said 26 stabs wouldn't necessarily lead to the killer being doused in blood.

"There just wouldn't have been that much bleeding from the Phillips-head screwdriver stabs to her chest and neck," Propst said.

Propst's testimony also suggested Lister's body was not dragged into the woods long after her death. Part of the defense's case alleges someone other than Eacker killed Lister and later brought her body to the Seward dump in an attempt to frame Eacker.

Propst conceded during cross-examination that pinpointing exact time of death is difficult, but he testified that most of the signs point to Lister's body being disposed shortly after her killing.

Lividity could be the biggest indicator that Lister was not transported long after her death, according to the pathologist. Lividity, Propst explained, is the process in which blood settles within a dead body. Unless otherwise impeded, gravity slowly pulls the blood downward, leaving a purple discoloration lower in the body and a pale complexion higher up.

While showing the jury pictures of Lister's body lying in the woods and pictures of the autopsy report, Propst explained the lividity in her body matches the position in which she was found.

"The dark stain here is consistent with postmortem lividity, which you can see in this picture," Propst said. "The top of the body is relatively pale. That's where the blood has settled away. That would be what you could expect.

"You can see where her top leg lay over and pressed on her lower leg making this pale area. That's lividity. That's an expected finding."

Propst also said his autopsy report concludes Lister was involved in sexual intercourse shortly before her death. Neither side has disputed that Lister and Eacker had sex.

Propst also spoke to a cut on Lister's finger, which the defense has suggested may have led to Lister's blood staining a small spot on Eacker's pants. The defense says Lister could have cut her finger during a fight in a bar the night she was reported missing.

Propst said the cut could be a defensive wound sustained as she was being killed.

Weber asked Propst to walk him through the body's process of decaying and then asked Propst why Lister's body would not have undergone the process as it lay in the woods between early March and mid April in 1982.

"She was in a condition which is optimal for the storage of the body in temperatures that were roughly between 25 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit," Propst said.

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com

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