SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Curtis Lovelace defense team continued its attempt to discredit prosecution expert witness testimony with a second forensic pathologist claiming Cory Lovelace did not die of suffocation.
Dr. William Oliver testified Thursday that Cory Lovelace died from complications of alcohol withdrawal from fatty liver disease and that in 30 years he has never seen a “relatively healthy adult” smothered with a pillow because they can resist. Suffocation with pillows typically occurs with infants and the elderly, who he said can’t resist.
Oliver, who was on the stand for about three hours, is an assistant medical examiner for Knox County in Tennessee and a former professor in the department of pathology at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine. He testified that he consults on 10 to 15 cases annually, and worked on the Rodney King and O.J. Simpson cases.
Questioned by defense attorney Jon Loevy, Oliver said suffocation would leave signs of a struggle on both the victim and the assailant.
“People don’t lie there passively and let themselves be smothered,” he said.
It appeared, Oliver said, that a suffocation theory was developed early in the case, which caused others to conclude evidence pointed to suffocation, adding that any pathologists, including himself, will “plant flags and defend it.”
This is consistent with defense arguments that Quincy police Detective Adam Gibson shopped around for forensic pathologists to agree that Cory Lovelace was smothered.
Prosecutors allege she was smothered with a pillow at the hands of her husband Curtis Lovelace on Valentine’s Day 2006. Three forensic pathologists — Dr. Werner Spitz, Dr. Scott Denton and Dr. Jane Turner — testified earlier in the trial that suffocation was the cause of death.
If suffocation was the cause of death, Oliver said lacerations on the lips and bruises would be present.
Spitz testified last week that a cut inside of Cory Lovelace’s mouth was caused by the pressure being exerted on her face, but Oliver countered that blood would have been present in the mouth if the wound was caused at the time of death. None was noted in the autopsy report, and Oliver said he believed the cut was a day or two old, but without a “great deal of certainty.”
Oliver’s cause of death finding is consistent with Dr. Shaku Teas’ assessment that Cory Lovelace died from fatty liver as the result of chronic alcoholism. Teas testified for the defense Wednesday, concluding there were no signs of suffocation.
Oliver reviewed slides of Cory Lovelace’s liver that he said showed signs of fatty liver.
He also noted scar tissue that is a precursor to cirrhosis.
“It’s not supposed to look like this at all,” Oliver said. “You’re not supposed to have all this lipid (fat).”
Oliver also said the time of death was likely about 8 a.m.
Curtis Lovelace and three of his children told police that they saw Cory Lovelace the morning she was found dead.
He said the first responder reports of “mild rigor” in Cory Lovelace’s arms were consistent with photos taken a few hours after death.
Quincy police Detective Jeff Baird — now a sergeant — testified that the arms showed signs of mild and moderate rigor mortis and were pliable.
During cross-examination, special prosecutor Ed Parkinson pressed Oliver why he didn’t mention Larson Lovelace in his report. He became animated about why Oliver couldn’t remember Larson’s testimony from the first trial where Larson recalled poking his mom the morning she was found dead.
Vaguely recalling the testimony, Oliver said it wouldn’t contradict his findings.
Oliver perked up during cross-examination when told to explain why he put suffocation at he bottom of his list for cause of death. Alcohol withdrawal, starvation and fatty liver, he said, fit the sudden death of Cory Lovelace.
Oliver agreed with Parkinson that more photos from the scene would have been helpful, especially those that could have shown blanching, or the movement of blood in the tissue when pressed.
Parkinson also asked Oliver about the position of Cory Lovelace’s arms, which have been described as “unnatural” throughout the trial.
Loevy objected to Parkinson’s characterization of how Cory Lovelace’s arms were depicted in a scene photo drawing an in-court squabble.
“Do you want to get down on the floor again?” Parkinson sniped, referring to an incident last week when Loevy tried to demonstrate how the arms were positioned by laying on the floor in the courtroom.
Oliver said her arms could have been resting on something, such as a comforter. On redirect questioning from Loevy, Oliver said Cory Lovelace’s arms also could have moved when she was assessed by paramedics.