Doctor testifies in Tashia Stuart murder trial in Pasco

Tri-City HeraldJune 11, 2013 

— When Judy Hebert sought medical treatment five days after an 18-gallon bin of books fell on her from the rafters, she reported a pain scale of 10 out of 10, a doctor said Tuesday.

Hebert went to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland on Feb. 25, 2011, reporting severe pain in her head and neck.

Dr. Fermin Godinez said he remembers the emergency room visit more than two years later because the reason given by Hebert for the injury was “not something I’ve heard before.”

“She says a bucket of books hit her on the head five days ago and (she) was hurting,” he recalled.

Hebert complained of muscle spasms on the back sides of her neck and on top of her shoulders, in addition to an aching head, though Godinez said he didn’t see any knots.

Computer imaging didn’t show any fractures of Hebert’s head or skull, bleeding or other obvious injuries, so she was given Valium and an anti-nausea medication and told to be careful, he said.

The doctor was testifying in the trial of Hebert’s daughter, Tashia Stuart. Stuart, 40, is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with allegedly trying to kill her 58-year-old mother by dropping the bin on her and, weeks later, fatally shooting her.

Stuart’s trial, on charges of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances and attempted first-degree murder, is in its third week.

Hebert died inside her Salmon Drive home in Pasco on March 3, 2011. Stuart claims she was defending herself and shot her mom only after Hebert came at her with a hatchet.

Stuart, her 7-year-old daughter and her husband had moved in with Hebert in early 2011.

On Feb. 20, 2011, Hebert reportedly was helping her son-in-law, Todd, with a tape measure in the garage when the heavy bin fell onto her head. Hebert didn’t seek immediate treatment and told friends that her daughter and son-in-law were caring for her, but also shared suspicions that they were trying to harm her.

Todd Stuart has been acquitted by a Franklin County jury of having any role in a conspiracy to kill Hebert.

Hebert went to the Richland emergency room five days after the book-bin incident when her pain wasn’t going away. Kristi Jordan, a registered nurse, said Hebert told her she was shaky and nauseated: “Today (my) head feels like the size of a watermelon.”

Defense attorney Bob Thompson asked if Hebert came into the hospital in a wheelchair, if she was having trouble speaking and if her head really was the size of a watermelon.

When Jordan answered “no,” the lawyer questioned if a person “seeking pain medications” would come in claiming to be a level 2 or 10 on the pain scale. Jordan said the hospital is more likely to prescribe medication to a person who is in extreme pain.

Hebert told medical staff she suffered from hypertension, fibromyalgia, lupus and chronic pain, and was on about seven medications for those and other issues.

Godinez was asked if he was concerned prescribing medications to Hebert, considering the number of drugs she already was taking. He testified that he wasn’t concerned for the short-term management of her injury.

He added that there are possible side effects if some of the drugs were to be used together, including sleepiness, but said it probably wouldn’t have been as bad for Hebert because she was used to taking medications on a regular basis.

“For lack of a better explanation, it’s like an alcoholic — when they drink alcohol, they’re able to tolerate it better,” he said.

However, the doctor said the hospital staff made sure Hebert had someone to drive her home when they discharged her, because Valium is a very strong medication. She was accompanied to the hospital by her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter.

Melinda Rouse, an emergency department technician, said she tried to put Hebert at ease while pushing the patient’s gurney to diagnostic imaging, commenting that it was nice her family brought her in.

Rouse told the jury that Hebert made a “humph” sound, then said “They’re more trouble than what they’re worth.”

Rouse said she didn’t have time to ask a follow-up question because they’d arrived at the department. She didn’t include the comment in her report because “I’m not allowed to chart that,” but said she told Pasco detectives a week or so later when they came to the hospital investigating Hebert’s death.

Rouse didn’t have any trouble remembering Hebert’s visit. “It was an unusual enough statement that it sticks in your head,” she testified. “It’s not something you often hear from patients.”

The trial continues Wednesday in the Franklin County Courthouse.

Defense attorneys have asked Judge Cameron Mitchell to reconsider his Monday denial of a dismissal or mistrial.

This came after the attorneys interviewed Hebert’s neighbor, who reportedly stood by her testimony that she told Prosecutor Shawn Sant about dust trails in Hebert’s garage. Sant insists the witness did not share that with him, so he didn’t violate any evidence rules.

Mitchell will hear arguments on the matter Wednesday.

Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531;; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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