PWC Consulting


                  

Ronnie Lee Kimble 

                                                  

 Home   v  Search

 Timeline  v  Case File  v  Trial Record  v  Media Coverage

 

 

 

 

Karen Elizabeth Chancellor, Witness for the State


 

MR. PANOSH: Your Honor, Dr. Chancellor is here in


 361

regards to the autopsy. I'd like to take her out of order. And in that regard, counsel for the defendant and State have reached an agreement, a stipulation, that the body she examined was that of Patricia Gail Blakley, without going into the dental records and other items that are used to identify her.

MR. LLOYD: No objection.

THE COURT: Members of the jury, you may take that as being an admitted fact by both the State and the defense, that the body that was examined on that occasion was in fact Patricia.

MR. LLOYD: We so stipulate, Your Honor.

MR. PANOSH: Doctor.

THE COURT: This witness is being taken out of the normal sequence, for the convenience of the witness. Please remember that as you try to put the case together in your mind.

KAREN ELIZABETH CHANCELLOR, being first duly sworn, testified as follows during DIRECT EXAMINATION by MR. PANOSH:

Q    Would you state your name, please.

A    Karen Elizabeth Chancellor.

Q    And you are a doctor, a medical doctor; is that right, Dr. Chancellor?

A    Yes, I am.


362

Q    And where did you do your training, please?

A    I did my medical school training at Duke University Medical School, where I graduated with my M.D. degree in 1985.

After graduating from medical school, I specialized in the area of pathology, which is the practice of diagnosing human diseases from examining the tissues and body fluids from persons. Those persons might be dead, or they might still be in the living state.

There are various types of pathologists. First I practiced general pathology, and I pursued that study at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Then I came to Chapel Hill in 1990, where I continued in general pathology. And in the following year, July of 1991, I decided to practice forensic pathology and accepted a position with the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Chapel Hill. I accepted the position of assistant chief medical examiner for the state of North Carolina.

As a forensic pathologist, my job is to determine the cause and manner of death in cases which fall into medicolegal jurisdiction in North Carolina. Those deaths are generally ones that are either homicides, accidents or suicides, or they might be suspicious deaths, or deaths in a young person that are unexpected.

I also have specialized training in the area of


 363

neuropathology, which is the diagnosis of diseases that affect the brain and the spinal cord. I am Board certified in the areas of anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, forensic pathology, and neuropathology. I received my neuropathology training also at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

I have been in my present position as associate chief medical examiner for the state of North Carolina since July of 1995.

Q    And, of course, you've been recognized as an expert in the field of forensic pathology on many occasions; is that right?

A    Yes, I have.

Q    And you've testified in state and federal court?

A    I have testified in numerous state courts in North Carolina.

MR. PANOSH: Your Honor, we would tender her as an expert in the field of forensic pathology.

THE COURT: Do you wish to examine her credentials?

MR. LLOYD: No objection, Your Honor.

THE COURT: The Court finds Dr. Karen Chancellor to be an expert in the field of forensic pathology, and by education, training and experience, she may express an opinion in that area.


 364

Proceed.

Q    In the course of your duties on or about October the 10th of 1995, did you -- did your facility receive the body of Patricia Gail Blakley?

A    Yes, we did.

Q    And thereafter, did you conduct an autopsy?

A    I did.

Q    What date did you conduct the autopsy?

A    October 10, 1995.

Q    And when you received the body and began to conduct your autopsy, would you describe for the ladies and gentlemen of the jury your procedures.

A    Well, an autopsy is the main tool that I use to determine the cause and manner of death. And that's what I conducted on Ms. Kimble's body on October 10th. This is an examination of the body after death has occurred.

The first part of my examination is looking at the outside of the body, noting certain physical characteristics, such as hair color, eye color, that sort of thing, and looking at the outside of the body for any evidence of injury or evidence of disease processes. And that's called the external examination portion of the autopsy. That's the first part.

Let's see. Would you like me to tell what I found on the external examination at this point?


 365

Q    Yes. Doctor, did you bring photographs with you of your autopsy?

A    I did.

MR. PANOSH: May I approach the witness?

THE COURT: You may.

MR. LLOYD: Your Honor, if we may approach briefly.

THE COURT: Yes, sir.

MR. LLOYD: Well, maybe Mr. Panosh can alleviate the problem.

(Mr. Panosh showed exhibits to Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Hatfield.)

MR. LLOYD: Your Honor, at this point, we would renew our earlier objection.

MR. PANOSH: May I approach the witness?

THE COURT: Yes, sir.

MR. PANOSH: I'll pare them down.

Q    Doctor, would you select from these photographs those that you feel are necessary for you to describe the course of your autopsy to the jury, and the least number, please. (Mr. Panosh handed exhibits to the witness, and time was allowed for the witness.)

Q    Would you please hand me the photographs you want to use.

(The witness complied.)

Q    Is that basically the order you want them in?


 366

A    Yes, uh-huh.

MR. LLOYD: Your Honor, we'd simply ask that the Court view the photographs. If we could approach.

THE COURT: Well, I am in a position, if the doctor tells me that she's picked the ones she needs for her testimony.

MR. PANOSH: Your Honor, the doctor selected four photographs, 68 through 71, and I'll show them to counsel. (Mr. Panosh showed exhibits to Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Hatfield.)

MR. LLOYD: Judge, if we may just approach the bench for a minute.

THE COURT: Okay. Approach the bench, please. (The following proceedings were had by the Court and all three counsel at the bench, out of the hearing of the jury.) (Mr. Panosh showed the exhibits to the Court.)

THE COURT: Do you wish to be heard?

MR. LLOYD: Yes, sir, Your Honor. Your Honor, the ruling is discretionary with this Court. And, you know, we all know that whatever happens is going to be upheld. And I -- but my appeal to you is, these are gruesome photographs.

THE COURT: The crime is gruesome.

MR. LLOYD: Well, I understand that, Your Honor. We've had crime scene photographs. I just don't see why that we can't -- we're stipulating to the identification. There's no --


 367

THE COURT: Does it show the gunshot wound to the head?

MR. PANOSH: Yes, sir.

THE COURT: The Court makes the following findings: That this is being conducted at the bench conference with the attorneys. The objection has been lodged. The Court's going to overrule the objection and find that Dr. Chancellor, the pathologist, has gone through a number of photographs, that she's picked four photographs which she's indicated that she would need to be able to illustrate and explain her testimony. The Court has looked at the photographs, and finds that the four photographs are illustrative of the condition of the body, also will be illustrative for the purpose of showing any wounds to the body that may have been the cause of death, and would find that the probative value would outweigh the prejudicial aspect of having the jury see these photographs, and will allow them to see the four photographs. Also, find that they're relevant.

(Proceedings continued in open court.)

MR. PANOSH: Your Honor, we'd seek to introduce into evidence 68 through 71 as the autopsy photographs the doctor's indicated illustrates her -- the course of her autopsy.

MR. LLOYD: Object on grounds previously raised,


 368

Your Honor.

THE COURT: Overruled. The Court will allow the introduction of State's Exhibits 68 through 71.

Q    (By Mr. Panosh) Doctor, would you feel comfortable stepping before the jury?

A    Yes, I do.

MR. PANOSH: May she do that?

THE COURT: Yes.

Q    Using those photographs, Dr. Chancellor, would you describe the examination of the body in the course of your autopsy.

(The witness approached the jury box.)

A    Yes. I just finished describing to you the first part of the autopsy examination, which is the external examination. That's looking at the outside of the body.

And here I have before you as what's labeled State's Exhibit 68. This is a photograph of Ms. Kimble's body as it appeared at the time of autopsy. In each of the photographs that you see, there's an autopsy number, A95-901. This allows me to identify this photograph as belonging to Patricia Kimble.

THE COURT: Dr. Chancellor, you'll need to move up and down in front of the jury box, so that all the jurors can see.

THE WITNESS: Yes, sir.


 369

A    What I'm showing you here in this State's Exhibit 68 is a photograph of Ms. Kimble's body. And you can see that it is severely charred. For purpose of orientation, I'm pointing with my index finger to her head. And this is one of her arms here. (Indicated.) This is the lower body. (Indicated.) It's severely burned.

I'll move over to the mid-portion of the jury. (The witness moved to the center of the jury box.)

A    And this is State's Exhibit 68, shows Ms. Kimble's body as it appeared at the time of autopsy. This is her head I'm pointing to. She's face up here. Her body is severely charred, especially the lower leg areas. (Indicated.) And also, the mid-portion of the body is severely charred. (Indicated.)

(The witness moved to the other end of the jury box.)

A    State's Exhibit 68 shows Ms. Kimble's body at -- when I did the autopsy. She's lying face up. This is her head I'm pointing to with my index finger. This is her lower body and lower extremities which mostly -- or partially has been burned away. (Indicated.) See there's a severe amount of charring of the body, and that's exhibited here by the charred flesh. Also note that some of the skin is split in these photographs. And I'll show you that a little bit better in the next photograph, which is State's Exhibit 69. (Held up an exhibit.)


 370

This is the photograph of her upper head and upper chest area. Again, it has a unique autopsy number, 95-901. And the photograph of her head and chest shows the charring of the right side of the face. Notice that the left side of the face, there is some sparing from the burning effect, and you can see some of her white skin that's not burned.    Also notice that on this photograph, that the skin of the chest is split. This is an artifact that occurs when a body is burned. The skin becomes extremely dry and stretches so that it bursts. (Indicated.)

(The witness moved to the center of the jury box.)

A    Okay. This is State's Exhibit 69. Shows the head and upper chest of Ms. Kimble. On the right side of the face, there is severe charring and blackening of the face. The left side of the face is somewhat spared from the burning. The upper part of the chest is also burned. And the skin is split apart, where the skin has burst from the drying. (The witness moved to the other end of the jury box.)

A    State's Exhibit 69 shows the head and upper chest of Ms. Kimble. The right side of the face is more charred than the left side. The left side has some sparing. The skin is still white and not blackened like the right side. Some of the skin is split, and this is an artifact of the burning.

State's Exhibit 70 is a photograph of the left side of Ms. Kimble's head. And for purposes of orientation, I'm


 371

pointing to the front of her face with my index finger. This is her face and nose area. This is the back of her head. Much of the scalp hair has been burned away, although there is some scalp hair remaining that is somewhat singed. I'm pointing to with my index finger an entrance gunshot wound on the left side of the head. It's just behind the left ear. This is a round defect, a round opening, where a bullet entered her head, just behind the left ear. And you can see some hemorrhage or bleeding at that site. It's a round opening. It measured one-half inch in diameter. (The witness moved to the center of the jury box.)

A    Again, State's Exhibit Number 70. This is the left side of Ms. Kimble's head. You can see the front of her face I'm pointing to with my index finger. This is the back of her head. (Indicated.) Most of the scalp hair has been burned away. Some that remained is singed. I'm pointing to with my index finger the entrance gunshot wound on the left side of the head, just behind the left ear. It's a round opening, with bleeding at that site.

(The witness moved to the other end of the jury box.)

A    This is State's Exhibit Number 70, and shows the left side of Ms. Kimble's head. This is the front of the face. (Indicated.) This is the back of the head. (Indicated.) And you can see some burning and charring of the flesh. Most of the scalp hair has been burned away. Some of it


 372

remains. On the left side of the head, just behind the left ear, is a round gunshot wound entrance I'm pointing to with my finger. It's round and has some hemorrhage.

This is State's Exhibit 71, and shows the right side of Ms. Kimble's head. This is the front of the face. (Indicated.) This is the back of the head I'm pointing to with my index finger. The right side shows more charring than the left. And notice there is some splitting of the skin on the right forehead area I'm pointing to here. There's also an area of splitting behind the right ear.

This is the right ear. (Indicated.) There's some splitting here. And from this point, just underneath the scalp area, I recovered a bullet and fragments of bullet from the gunshot wound, just under this area of splitting of the skin. (Indicated.)

(The witness moved to the center of the jury box.)

A    This is State's Exhibit Number 71. Shows the right side of Ms. Kimble's head. It is more charred than the left side. This is the front of her face. (Indicated.) This is the back of the head. (Indicated.) There is some splitting of the skin over the right forehead area. There's also splitting of the skin behind the right ear. And this is the point from which I recovered the bullet and fragments thereof.

(The witness moved to the other end of the jury box.)


 373

A    This is State's Exhibit Number 71. This shows the right side of Ms. Kimble's head. This is the front of her face. (Indicated.) This is the back of her head. (Indicated.) The black marks are the charring of the body. On the right side of the forehead, you can see some splitting of the skin. There's also an area of splitting and bulging of the skin behind the right ear. This is the point from which I recovered the bullet and fragments of bullet from the gunshot wound that entered on the left side.

Q    Thank you.

(The witness returned to the witness stand.)

Q    Now, doctor, on external examination, you noted that her weight was 101 pounds; is that correct?

A    Yes.

Q    What, if any, effect would the condition of her body have on that weight?

A    Sometimes charred bodies can weigh less than the weight that the person weighed in life, because part of the body has burned away, and the tissues are very dried.

Q    And doctor, I note that you didn't make an indication of her height. Is that -- why was that?

A    Because her feet were partially burned away, and we could not get an accurate height of the body. Usually this is what is recorded as the height, but in this case, it was not -- could not be accurate.


 374

Q    Could you -- based upon your examination of the body, could you give the jury an estimate of her stature? A    I don't recall. I know it -- no effort was made to make an estimate of her stature.

Q    You were able to measure the location of the wound in reference to the top of the head; is that correct?

A    Yes.

Q    And how far below the top of the head was the wound?

A    The entrance gunshot wound on the left side of the head, behind the left ear, was located at a point that's four and a half inches from the top of her head and four inches from the anterior, front of the face.

Q    Basically, pretty much centered on the skull?

A    Well, if I could demonstrate on my own body. The location of the entrance wound would be approximately here, behind the ear, four inches from the top of the head and four inches from the front of the face. (Indicated.)

Q    And the track of the wound was?

A    The wound track went through the head, towards the right side of the head. It went from the left side of the head to the right. It did not have any significant deviation to the front or back of the head or any significant deviation up or down. It went from the left side to the right side of her head. And the track of this bullet was through the brain, through the, what's called the


 375

left temporal lobe, through the brain stem, and then through the right temporal lobe of the brain.

Q    Based upon your examination of the wound and the wound track, did you form an opinion as to -- Or let me ask you this. Would your opinion as to the location of the weapon be consistent with it being at approximately the height of the wound and parallel to the floor?

A    The barrel of the gun that fired the wound (sic) that killed Ms. Kimble would be somewhat parallel with what I'm demonstrating here on my own head. I don't know how close it was to her head, but it would be in somewhat this

alignment with respect to her head. (Demonstrated.)

Q    And it would be essentially the height of the wound, is that correct, since there was no upward or downward track?

A    I'm sorry. Would you repeat that.

Q    It would be -- the gun would be at essentially the height of the wound, since there was no upward or downward track?

A    Well, the gun would be held in relationship to her head in this position. (Demonstrated.) It might be further away, but it wouldn't be up like this, unless her head were turned this way. (Demonstrated.) In other words, I can make a statement about the relative position of the gun and the head.

Q    Assuming the normal position of a person when they're


 376

walking, it would be at essentially the height of the wound; is that correct?

A    If her head was in a normal upright position when the gun was fired, then the gun would have had to be in this type position, apparently -- approximately horizontal with the ground. (Demonstrated.)

Q    Now, one of the things that forensic pathologists can do on autopsy is to determine to some extent how close the weapon was at the time it was discharged, but you were unable to do that in this case; is that correct?

A    That determination was made very difficult by the charring of the body. In other words, what we are looking for, as far as getting an estimate of how far the gun was from the body when it was fired, we were looking for evidence of gunshot residues on the body. These are particles of powder and other sooty residues which are discharged from the end of a gun when it's fired. Now, I did not find any of those residues on Ms. Kimble's body. However, her body was severely charred and it did make that examination difficult.

Q    Now, at one point in your examination, you said, "Examination of the dura at this entrance point reveals the absence of soot stain." What did you mean by that?

A    Well, when I do the internal part of the examination, I'm looking at the inside of the head. One part that I


 377

examined is what's called the dura mater. It's a covering of the brain tissue, a very sort of thick, fibrous covering. And the bullet passed through the dura mater before it went through the brain. Now, if the bullet had been -- if -I'm sorry. If the gun had been held in tight contact against the skin when it was fired, we might expect some sooty residues to be present within the wound track. And I also might expect there to be some sooty residues on the dura mater. I did not find any such residues inside the wound or on the dura mater or on the skull.

Q    But based upon those observations, you can't consistently state the distance -- or you can't positively state the distance of the gun?

A    I know that the wound -- the gun was not in tight contact with the head, but it may have been a very close range from the body, or it may have been a distance of some feet.

Q    So your findings just simply say that it was not in physical contact with the skull at the time it was discharged?

A    It was not -- most likely not in tight contact with the head at the time it was discharged.

Q    And would you define "tight contact."

A    Tight contact would mean right up against -- the end of the barrel would be right up against the head. (Indicated.)


 378

Q    In the course of your internal examination, were you able to determine whether there was any evidence of any type of sexual assault?

A    We looked for evidence of sexual assault. I did not find any. I examined the external genitalia and internal genitalia of Ms. Kimble. I also collected swabs from the vaginal and rectal cavity, to look for the presence of

spermatozoa. I did not find any of evidence of sexual assault.

Q    Based on the nature of the wound and the extent of damage caused as a result of the wound, could you give an estimate as to how quickly death ensued after the wound was inflicted?

A    After Ms. Kimble received this gunshot wound to the head, death would have ensued very rapidly. She would be immediately unconscious, and all signs of life, including respirations and heartbeats, would cease after a few seconds or a minute.

Q    And you did do an examination of the lungs --

A    Yes.

Q    -- for the purpose of determining whether there was soot, evidence of smoke; is that correct?

A    Yes.

Q    And what did you find?

A    I did not find the presence of any soot in the lungs or


 379

in the trachea. When I examine any burned body, there are certain things that I look for, to determine whether the person was alive at the time of the fire or dead. One of those things is the presence of soot in the upper airways or lung tissue. If the person breathed in air that contained soot during a fire, I would expect to see those inside the lung or in the airway. I did not see those in Ms. Kimble's body.

Q    And that would be consistent with death occurring prior to the burning?

A    Yes.

Q    Doctor, did you make any other significant findings in the course of your autopsy?

A    No.

MR. PANOSH: Thank you, doctor.

THE COURT: Mr. Lloyd, do you wish to cross-examine her?

MR. LLOYD: Yes, sir, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right, sir.

MR. LLOYD: Just a few questions.

CROSS-EXAMINATION by MR. LLOYD:

Q    Dr. Chancellor, is it fair to say, consistent with your findings in this case, that death occurred before any burning of Patricia Kimble?

A    Now -- yes, the death occurred before the burning of


 380

her body.

Q    All right. And I note on your autopsy report that you got an entry that there was less than five percent carbon monoxide present?

A    Yes. We also look for the presence of carbon monoxide in the blood of any person who dies during a fire. One of the reasons we're looking for this is, also to tell us if the person was alive or dead. If the person was alive and breathed in air that contained carbon monoxide, which is a product of combustion in house fires, we would expect to see carbon monoxide in the blood. And we did not see it in Ms. Kimble's blood.

Q    So that's consistent with death prior to the burning of the body?

A    Yes, it is.

Q    All right. And also, consistent with death prior to the existence of the house fire; is that correct?

A    I -- no, I can't say that. It was -- her death occurred prior to the burning of her body.

Q    Well, had there been a house fire -- and I know you don't know all the facts of the case, Dr. Chancellor. And had she been alive, then you would expect in those cases to see carbon monoxide present; is that right?

A    If there is a house fire, we generally expect to see carbon monoxide present in the blood of persons present in


 381

that house, yes.

Q    And you didn't see that in this case?

A    There was not carbon monoxide present.

Q    And as you indicated on direct examination, death from a gunshot wound, as Ms. Kimble had in this case, would have been very rapid?

A    Yes, it would have.

Q    And unconsciousness, I believe you stated, would be that she would be immediately unconscious, as a result of this gunshot wound?

A    Yes, she would.

Q    All right. Now, you indicated that you checked for the evidence of sexual assault, and basically, you didn't find the presence of any sperm when you examined Ms. Kimble; is that correct?

A    That is correct.

Q    All right. And as you indicated on direct examination, in terms of the tilt of the gun that fired the fatal shot in this case, basically, that is going to be contingent on, among other things, the tilt of Ms. Kimble's head at this time; is that right?

A    Yes. If I could clarify. I can make a statement about the position of the gun relative to the position of her head.

Q    All right. And relative to the position of the head,


 382

in other words, you could say, if her head were tilted this way, then the gun would have to be tilted in the same direction; is that correct? (Indicated.)

A    Yes. If the -- when the gun was fired, the orientation of the barrel of the gun with respect to her head would have been such as I'm demonstrating now, with the barrel pointing from the left ear to the right ear. (Demonstrated.) If the head was in a different position, the gun would have had to

have been at a different position also. (Demonstrated.)

Q    All right. And that would be true on the opposite end of the spectrum, so that if her head were tilted this way, the gun would be tilted in a like manner? (Indicated.)

A    Again, it would have to be pointed from her left ear to her right ear, no matter what the position of her head.

Q    And all this is based on the fact that the wound track was basically straight across from the left to the right and did not deviate up or down; is that right?

A    That's correct. The bullet traversed in a path from the left ear to just behind the right ear.

Q    And you indicated that you checked the wound site for the presence of powder, sometimes called stippling; is that right?

A    Yes.

Q    Did not find it in this case?

A    I did not find any powder stippling, although it's


 383

possible that it could be obscured by charring of the body.

Q    But you might expect to see it in a case where the proximity of the barrel was very close to the wound itself? A    Powder stippling is produced when the end of the barrel is close enough to the person who's been shot, such that powder particles are emitted from the end of the barrel and strike the skin near the gunshot wound. They form tiny, little pinpoint abrasions, and they're called stippling marks. So that's what I might expect to see on a body, if the barrel of the gun was held in a range of at least many inches away from the head. And I didn't find those marks on Ms. Kimble's body. However, her body was charred, and marks of such a nature might be obscured.

Q    But you also checked inside the wound itself, did you not, Dr. Chancellor?

A    Yes.

Q    And that part inside the wound was not actually charred, was it?

A    The inside of the head was not charred.

Q    All right. And of course, the way -- a bullet with its shell casing, where the powder comes from, is behind the actual lead projectile, is it not?

A    When a gun is fired, not only is the bullet released from the end of the barrel, but there's also sooty residues and products of combustion of the gunpowder and actually


 384

particles of gunpowder itself.

Q    But the actual projectile would be the first to go out of the barrel of the gun, and then the powder particles would follow along behind it; is that correct, Dr. Chancellor?

A    If the gun is in normal working condition, that's true, the bullet should emerge first, and then later, the powder particles emerge.

Q    So you would expect that the powder particles could come in and follow the bullet's path and come in behind the bullet and lodge inside the wound, if the barrel were close enough for it to do that?

A    Sooty residues would be deposited on the inside of the wound track only if the end of the barrel of the gun were held in tight contact with the skin. In other words, only if the end of the barrel were up against this point on Ms. Kimble's head, behind the left ear, would there be sooty residues on the inside. (Indicated.)

MR. LLOYD: Thank you, Dr. Chancellor. That's all I have.

THE COURT: You may step down, doctor.

REDIRECT EXAMINATION by MR. PANOSH:

Q    Doctor -- if I -- just one point of clarification. When you indicated with your hand that the gun was in this position, you were in no way indicating that that was the


 385

distance from the head to the gun?

A    No, not at all. I am only indicating a relative position of the gun, with respect to her head. I don't know if the gun were held this close or this close or further. (Indicated.) But it would have been in alignment from her left ear to her right ear.

MR. PANOSH: Thank you.

THE COURT: You may step down, Dr. Chancellor.

THE WITNESS: Thank you, Your Honor.

(The witness left the witness stand.)

MR. PANOSH: May she be excused, Your Honor?

THE COURT: Any objection, gentlemen?

MR. LLOYD: No objection, Your Honor.

THE COURT: You may be excused.

THE WITNESS: Thank you.

 

 

Published August 15, 2006.  Report broken links or other problems.

PWC Consulting.  Visit our website at www.preventwrongfulconvictions.org for information on our Mission and Services, and to sign up for our Newsletter.