A 55-year-old man stabbed in September outside a Benton City church tried to protect himself from the attack, but he died within minutes of having his throat slashed, a forensic pathologist testified this week.
Michael Edwards had 26 cuts and stab wounds from a sharp instrument like a knife, testified Dr. Carl Wigren.
The wounds to Edwards' left hand and upper right arm "can be associated with defensive maneuvers by the victim as he's fighting off attackers," said Wigren, who performed the autopsy Sept. 10.
Attorneys for murder suspects Noah M. Matlack and Noel A. Gonzalez questioned if Edwards was the "first aggressor" in the Sept. 8 death.
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"Like I'm coming at you to start a fight with you, and you pull out your knife to keep me away and then move forward to attack?" Wigren replied. "Yeah, that is one plausible scenario."
The doctor agreed with Scott Johnson, who represents Gonzalez, that "whatever was happening was dynamic."
Wigren took the stand Tuesday in Gonzalez's case, and again Wednesday for Matlack.
The 19-year-old men are charged in Benton County Superior Court with first-degree murder. Gonzalez is scheduled to face a jury Feb. 24, and Matlack on April 28.
However, Wigren -- who works in Seattle and had a contract with Benton County to handle autopsies, particularly homicide cases -- leaves Saturday for a six-month job in New Zealand.
Because he won't be available to testify at the trials, prosecutors scheduled deposition hearings to capture Wigren's explanations of his findings.
Prosecutors hope to show the recorded testimony to a jury in each case, but first need to have it admitted by a judge.
The depositions were held in a Benton County courtroom without a judge and remained open to the public at the request of Johnson and Alexandria Sheridan, Matlack's lawyer.
Edwards was killed about 11:30 p.m., but his body wasn't found until eight hours later by a neighbor. He was dragged through the parking lot and behind a church storage shed.
Edwards' nearby home was ransacked after his death and valuables were taken from his pried-open safe, authorities said.
Gonzalez and Matlack, both of Benton City, reportedly were trying to flee the Northwest when they were picked up by a Stanfield, Ore., police officer. The teens allegedly were trying to sell some rare coins at a truck stop.
Items taken from Edwards' safe included coins.
Edwards was stabbed on both sides of his face, on his chest, arms and back.
Even though several internal organs were damaged, the worst wound was a long, deep cut across Edwards' neck that hit the left carotid artery and exposed his airway, the doctor testified.
When Sheridan asked Wednesday if the autopsy results could remove Edwards as a possible assailant.
Wigren noted the victim may have been cut twice in almost identical spots. "That implies to me there is something else going on there, and it's a very intimate type of slashing," he said. "To me, I guess that would be what I would call overkill, and I try not to use that description too much. But nearly decapitating Mr. Edwards is overkill."
The defense lawyers questioned Wigren about his upcoming assignment in the Auckland, New Zealand, medical examiner's office and why, if he applied in August and was offered the position Oct. 3, he didn't notify Benton County officials until early December.
Wigren said he had active cases when he applied and he continued to do new autopsies, knowing that he could be absent for a good part of 2014. Asked how he planned to deal with his absence, Wigren said his experience is that it's unusual for criminal cases to go to trial in six to nine months, and more likely it's 1 to 11/2 years.
Wigren agreed he assumed he would have time to take the job in another country and come back before the Benton County cases went to trial.
The lawyers also grilled Wigren about his work history and the fact he has "an excuse" for misunderstandings or issues at each job.
The doctor told Sheridan that "sometimes you put your foot in your mouth," but added there was "no harm, no foul" and repeated that he was never reprimanded or sanctioned.
Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor presented eight letters of praise and recommendation that Wigren received after being fired from Snohomish County for being a whistleblower.
Wigren said he's not surprised the defense dug up the information because it can be found with a simple online search. He said he didn't feel it was important to share it with prosecutors at the start of the cases because nothing more came of any issues, and now he's a board certified forensic pathologist serving Eastern Washington.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; email@example.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer