Day eight: Abshire defense blames vehicle for neck injury

"This is the kind of injury you get when you've been launched or projected. She's landed on her head."

So testified a forensic pathologist hired by the defense in Eric Abshire's first degree murder trial to offer an alternate theory in the injuries sustained by 27-year-old kindergarten teacher and 1997 Western Albemarle High School grad Justine Swartz Abshire on the  night she died in what initially was reported to be a hit-and-run.

"My opinion is that she was standing at the time she was struck by a vehicle," said that pathologist, Dr. Jonathan L. Arden, a former New York City medical examiner who's been a paid legal consultant since 2003. Arden pointed to the fracture in Justine's femur as evidence of the vehicle involvement in her November 2006 death, and claimed none of her injuries appeared consistent with being run over while already prone.

Instead, he testified, her 113 external injuries and numerous additional internal injuries were likely sustained nearly simultaneously as a car struck her in the pelvis and leg region and sent her hurtling through the air. The broken bones and lacerated organs weren't the cause of her death, he asserted. While he agreed with the prosecution's assertion that a neck injury contributed to her death, he disagreed with the state's assessment of how she might have sustained it.

"I don't believe strangulation played any role in her death," said Arden. "The mechanism of her death is the cervical neck injury that caused a concussive injury to a primitive portion of her central nervous system, which is why she died rapidly." That, too, is why her injuries failed to bleed, Arden testified, although the total quantity of blood left in her body was never addressed, nor was the lack of embedded gravel or similar debris in any of her surface wounds.

On cross examination, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Rick Moore focused on Arden's $400 an hour fee.

"How many hours did you put in on this case?" asked Moore. When Arden claimed ignorance of the amount he'd worked or the amount he'd be paid, Moore lasered in.

"Did you intentionally not bring the records so you can't tell the jury how much you've been paid?" he asked, before suggesting that between Arden's hourly fees and his $4,000 per day trial fee, he'd earn a minimum of $7,400 for efforts.

While downplaying strangulation, Arden was not asked and did not mention anything about the burst blood vessels in Justine's eye and lip, or the contusions on her tongue, all of which the prosecution's medical examiner cited as results of pressure being applied to the neck.

Other defense witnesses today sought to paint Eric and Justine as a loving couple, who, contrary to prosecution testimony, were looking forward to building a life and house together and taking a delayed honeymoon.

"Justine was always happy, smiling, laughing, always just a great person," said Jill Madison, who married Abshire's cousin Mark Madison one week after Justine and Abshire's May 28, 2006 wedding. The foursome were close, Madison testified, planning to build houses next door to each other and eagerly anticipating a tropical cruise at Christmastime.

Several other witnesses recalled a car that burned soon after Justine's death. The Dyke-based vehicle, which witnesses described as a 1992 or '94 Honda Civic, appeared to have been in an accident of some sort soon after Justine's death, and, shortly thereafter, it burned, an event that brought Greene County Sheriff's Department and a Virginia State Police trooper to investigate.

"There was a patch of hair, blondish," in the bumper, testified Charlottesville City Utilities worker Christopher Carver of the vehicle's damaged bumper. But while Abshire's defense attorney Charles "Buddy" Weber suggested investigators had failed to follow up on Carver's tip, on cross examination, Commonwealth's Attorney Diana Wheeler read from a transcript between Carver and the case's lead investigator, Virginia State Police Special Agent Mike Jones.

"You noticed a light colored hair, one-inch to one-half inch long that looked like a deer's hair?" Wheeler reminded him from the transcript.

The last two witnesses of the day sought to discredit prosecution witness Cecil Roebuck, who has testified that in his quest to find an old school bus to use in building a parade float, he inadvertently may have helped Abshire stage the hit and run the night of Justine's death.

Asked whether Roebuck had a reputation for honesty, witness Teresa Stanley, a UVA nurse who once worked with Roebuck said, "It was a poor reputation."

On cross examination, prosecutors pressed Stanley and a second witness, Roebuck's former parade float business partner, to admit they'd had personal or business problems with him.

The defense resumes its case Monday, October 24, and the question of whether Abshire will take the stand in his own defense remains a key question.

19 comments

Maybe she was the victim of a hit-and-run by a polar bear in the middle of the Sahara Desert. This makes almost as much sense as this paid-gun's story. Gosh, I hope Orange County has smart jurors on this case.

"Gosh, I hope Orange County has smart jurors on this case."

You can have smart jurors, but from what I have read of the prosecution's case, they have only presented evidence that the defendant is probably guilty based on circumstances, and no evidence that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

A jury which concludes only that the accused is probably guilty must acquit.

However, just what is 'reasonable doubt' may be as diverse as those who are capable of reading this verbiage.

Not being very familiar with this case I can only speculate, as are the jury. But maybe I missed something like motive and opportunity?

The motive is the same it ALWAYS is for ANY crime: money and/or sex. As for opportunity, he had opportunity 24/7/365.

Not bad for a days work, " suggesting that between Arden's hourly fees and his $4,000 per day trial fee, he'd earn a minimum of $7,400 for efforts."

I wonder what he was earning in his last job, and if this kind of money made testimony for hire -more lucrative.

Abshire's attorney is court-appointed, right? So will Dr. Arden be paid with Orange County tax dollars?

Sounds like some folks may have a problem with the right to a fair trial for those who are presumed innocent...

Doc, I recognize he's got the right to a fair trial. But I've heard that court-appointed attorneys don't get paid nearly as much as they'd charge a client paying his own way. So I was wondering if the same concept would apply to an expert witness hired by that attorney.

It's all about the money- regardless of the situation..................follow the money! An expert is only as good as their fee.

How much do court appointed attorneys get paid? Do they get non-monetary compensation from the paid ME? Such as future free consultation?

Wonder why Eric being a former Marine is never considered. They question HOW she was injured in the neck area but fail to add that a marine is trained to kill quickly & quietly. Eric had tons of motive for killing Justine & planned it well but he forgot to consider he was going to be dealing with the Virginia State Police, not his county buddies. He moved her body cross the county line to make sure it was out of Greene County. The location was carefully chosen. He made some major mistakes in his planning...one is Mike Jones, Special Agent.

MIke JOnes! WHO??? MIiiike JOoooneeeezzs da one n only u cant clone me - gotta lot haters n a lot of homiez, sum friends n sum phonys\

281 330 8 zero zero fo - hit mike jones up on da low cuz mike jones about ta blow

Someday, Tim Brown might actually compose a non-Ebonics post that people can actually read. Someday..........

Blame it on the car, the weather, the phase of the moon! OR blame it on the fact that the defendant is a sociopath...OOOPS! Wouldn't want to get too close to the truth, would we?

Not picking a side on this, that is up to the jury--but the argument about how much the consultant got paid is relevant ONLY if you also question how much the state paid to have their forensic experts look at the evidence--I bet it was alot more than $7400. If the resources allocated to analyze forensic evidence are relevant for one side, then they are for the other, and I will bet the state spent ALOT more money on forensic analysis than the defense did.

Please god make him pay for what he has done!! We all know he is guilty and there will be more found guilty cause I'm sure he didn't do this alone.

YAY! JURY FOUND HIM GUILTY.

A local TV station is now reporting that the jury recommended life in prison. We better enjoy this verdict and sentencing. Because you will never see a city jury do the same thing in the murder of Yeardley Love, IMHO.

I failed to mention the Paula Chandler and Kelly Dove unsolved homicides in the Charlottesville area...Courteney did an excellent job covering all the angles in this piece: http://www.readthehook.com/86065/cover-glenn-barker-serial-killer-or-con...