A Richland mother stabbed 30 times last September may have died when the knife went through her heart once, a forensic pathologist said Tuesday.
Rebeca Vandeventer's multiple injuries were the focus of testimony from Dr. Carl Wigren, who took the witness stand for almost three hours in Benton County Superior Court.
His statements were intended for jurors in the trial of Lawrence A. Miller, but he spoke into a video camera while giving a detailed description of his autopsy results.
That's because Miller's trial is at least seven weeks -- if not months -- from starting. When it does, Wigren will be in New Zealand working in the Auckland medical examiner's office.
He leaves this Saturday and the job lasts six months.
So Prosecutor Andy Miller, not wanting to miss out on testimony from a key witness, asked Judge Vic VanderSchoor to order a deposition in the case. Now that it's done, Miller still will have to move to get the recorded testimony admitted at trial.
Defense attorneys Alexandria Sheridan and Scott Johnson have objected to the process so far, because they only learned of Wigren's imminent departure a month ago and claimed it didn't give them enough time to meet with their own expert or prepare to question him.
Tuesday's deposition remained open to the public at the request of the defense. It was held in a courtroom without a judge.
Lawrence Miller, 34, is charged with second-degree murder with domestic violence for allegedly killing Vandeventer on Sept. 11 while her three children were in the apartment.
The charge includes four aggravating circumstances: deliberate cruelty, aggravated domestic violence, a destructive and foreseeable impact on others, and excessive injuries.
His trial is set for March 10.
Miller and Vandeventer reportedly shared the Dos Palos Court apartment, even though they recently had broken up.
Prosecutors allege Miller was upset his ex-girlfriend wouldn't stop seeing another man, and used a 4- to 6-inch knife from a kitchen drawer to kill her during a bloody fight. Vandeventer's 8-year-old son went to a neighbor's home to get help after Miller left.
Wigren determined Vandeventer's cause of death was "homicidal violence including asphyxia by choking, sharp force injury to her neck and chest and blunt force injury to her head," he said.
The doctor used a series of photos taken in the autopsy to help explain his findings.
"Sorry. There's just so many stab wounds, it's getting a bit confusing," Wigren said at one point while looking through his notes for information.
Miller, who was in the courtroom for the deposition, looked at each photo during the testimony.
Vandeventer was found with a green piece of child's clothing stuffed in her mouth. That blocked her airway and caused her to choke, said Wigren, later pointing out two bruises on her left and right cheeks which would be consistent with her face being held tightly,
One of three stab wounds in Vandeventer's left chest could have been the one that perforated her heart, and that may have been what led to her death, Wigren said. But when talking about a deep bruise on the bridge of the victim's nose, he noted that "the totality of all the injuries are important in understanding how this death came to be."
Vandeventer was hit at least once on the head, though Wigren suspects it was more than that because the impact to her scalp seemed to be "fairly substantial," he said. It would have caused a great deal of pain to the victim, and either made her groggy or knocked her unconscious.
Before addressing the stab wounds in Vandeventer's groin area, Andy Miller asked if Wigren could determine how many of the wounds in her chest and back were inflicted when she was still alive.
The doctor said some, based on bleeding at the wound site, but "my opinion is that she was nearly dead when many of these stab wounds were inflicted."
Sheridan questioned why Wigren didn't let Benton County know he had applied for this job in New Zealand and continued to take on contract work doing homicide autopsies when he knew he might not be around for trials.
She also pursued issues from Wigren's past jobs, including his claims that he was fired from Snohomish County for being a whistleblower and problems with a Texas fellowship when he was told to stop performing autopsies because he didn't have a training permit as is required by state law. Wigren said he was never sanctioned or reprimanded for what happened in Texas.
Sheridan brought up Wigren's posting on a medical examiner listserv that after working next to a Whatcom County colleague on a contentious case for six hours, Wigren wanted to put a gun to his own head. He used a smiley face in the posting.
"I think it was construed as a threat because I was working for criminal defense in this case," Wigren testified Tuesday. "And I should probably add, I have a First Amendment right to free speech and a Second Amendment right to own a firearm."
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer