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Sun, Feb. 23

DeMocker: Medical examiner admits mistakes, sticks to golf club theory

Despite a day-long grilling by defense lawyers, retired medical examiner Dr. Philip Keene stuck by his theory that a golf club likely caused the nine blows to the head suffered by murder victim Carol Kennedy.

Kennedy's ex-husband, Steven DeMocker, 56, a Prescott stockbroker, is on trial for first-degree murder in Kennedy's July 2, 2008, death.

However, Keene admitted making some errors in his handling of the autopsy, including which side of Kennedy's arm was bruised in part of his report. Another mistake that Keene testified to under direct examination by Deputy County Attorney Joseph C. Butner III was using nail clippers that had not been sterilized to trim Kennedy's nails for evidence.

Questioned by defense lawyer Larry Hammond, Keene said that was a "procedural error" and that his assistant cleaned the clippers with antiseptic soap solution after every use.

"I think you'll agree the risk of contamination in this case regarding those clippers is extremely remote," Hammond said.

Keene answered, "I'd like to believe that. I can't say for sure."

This is a crucial point for the defense since forensic scientists found DNA from three unknown males beneath Kennedy's left fingernails, while they located no DNA from DeMocker on her body or at the crime scene.

Keene also testified he took Kennedy's body to Phoenix in the back of his pick-up truck after the autopsy. He used bungee cords to strap down Kennedy's body, which was in a body bag. Keene wanted forensic anthropologist Laura Fulginiti to reconstruct it as a consultant. However, for reasons Keene didn't know, Fulginiti was not able to study the corpse at that time and it was brought back to Prescott. Later, Fulginiti did perform a reconstruction of Kennedy's skull and is expected to be called as a witness.

Hammond, a Phoenix lawyer, asked Keene about the temperatures in that city in July, when it can remain about 100 degrees into the evening. Hammond asked Keene why he didn't use the mortuary transport service contracted by county officials to ferry bodies.

"I was going there anyway," said Keene, who has houses in Phoenix and Prescott. Keene waited until evening when it would be cooler.

Hammond joked that he's been "waiting for 40 years" for it to cool off in the evening in Phoenix in July.

Keene testified that he placed a "rhomboid-shaped" piece of bone on the opposite side of where it belonged when he reconstructed Kennedy's shattered skull himself 11 days after her death. Keene used Styrofoam and papier-mâché to substitute for Kennedy's brain for his reconstruction.

"You were not following usual forensic methods but a method of your own?" Hammond asked.

Keene said he did the reconstruction for the sake of investigation and took care not to alter the bones. It validated his theory that a golf club might have been the murder weapon, he said. Detectives by that time had obtained a Callaway Big Bertha club identical to the one that DeMocker had owned and Keene lined that club up against Kennedy's wounds for comparison purposes.

DeMocker's lawyers said that he'd given the club to Kennedy for a garage sale she'd planned sometime prior to her murder. DeMocker's former club remains missing.

Questioned by Butner on redirect examination, Keene explained that the blows to Kennedy's skull shattered it into many pieces. Keene took into account the lacerations or cuts in her scalp as well as the skull fractures when forming his opinion that the murderer had used a golf club.

Outside the jury's presence, lawyers sparred over autopsy photographs that Hammond said were "unduly gruesome" and could "inflame" the jury. Butner argued that he needed the photos to show how Keene came to his conclusion regarding the golf club.

"The skull was shattered in multiple pieces," Butner said. "It explains why there was confusion by Dr. Keene."

Superior Court Judge Warren R. Darrow ruled the jury could see the pictures.

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