A forensic pathologist on Tuesday offered testimony in direct contrast to what jurors heard last week, at one point saying he “disagree[s] vehemently” with the opinion of a respected colleague.
Three separate times throughout his testimony, Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen said his opinion was 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.
At one point in his testimony, Jentzen came down from the witness stand to explain to the jurors the dynamics of a fall.
“Individuals would typically fall backward, because of the inertia and the muscle mass that’s predominantly in the back,” he said. “The feet typically lift off the ground and the person would be airborne, and then there would be a point where the top portion of the body would strike, and then the lower portion of the body would strike. If they slip, their feet would be elevated much higher than in just a typical fall.”
Savio had a laceration to her head and bruising to the left side of her body. He 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.
Jentzen 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 said that while he’s been paid for his review and testimony, it has not influenced his opinion.