Not blunt force: Defense continues theme, as email angers judge
Rhonda Quagliana's first day back in court in the George Huguely trial after being ill for two days got off to a rocky start when she was accused of disclosing the testimony of prosecution witnesses to a defense expert.
Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman called the emails a "systemic violation of the rules" and said he'd just become aware of them today. Defense attorney Fran Lawrence contended the missives were sent with "no consciousness of wrongdoing," and were "perfectly curable."
Before the jury was brought in, Chapman questioned Dr. Ronald Uscinski, a Chevy Chase neurosurgeon, about four emails between Quagliana, Uscinski and fellow defense witnesses Dr. Jack Daniel and Dr. Jan Leestma on February 10 and February 14.
Uscinski said he didn't recall the emails, but he did acknowledge responding to one on February 14. He said he wasn't going to testify about CPR damage to the brain or reperfusion– tissue damages that occurs when blood returns after oxygen has been deprived– referred to in the email.
"This is very troublesome," Judge Edward Hogshire scolded. "I wouldn't have expected this from counsel."
He denied Chapman's motion to strike Uscinski as a witness, but said he would not allow Uscinski to testify about brain damage brought about from CPR.
To Hook legal expert David Heilberg, it's obvious Quagliana and Lawrence realized the mistake and self-disclosed to Chapman. "That's completely in line with what I know about Fran and Rhonda," says Heilberg. "Their integrity is more important than the mistake."
With Quagliana's illness and fatigue from preparing for a case that's drawn national attention, mistakes happen, says Heilberg. "I have no doubt, as Fran Lawrence stated, that Rhonda Quagliana's lapse was unintentional."
As for what was disclosed to Uscinski, observes Heilberg, "No harm, no foul."
By 11:15 am, the jury was finally brought into the courtroom for the Saturday continuation of a trial that's now exceeded two weeks. And Quagliana, reportedly suffering from projectile vomiting earlier, referred to photos of Love's brain and questioned her witness about brain injuries.
Uscinski produced examples of brain contusions resulting from trauma and he said the several little pinpoints of hemorrhages at the base of Yeardley Love's brain were not consistent with blunt force trauma. One reason is that area is so well protected, and there was no evidence of fracture and major bleeding.
Quagliana also asked whether Love's brain injury could have been caused by torquing. "You'd expect to see big time hemorrhaging," said Uscinski. "You just don't see that."
Under cross examination, Chapman brought out a book by Leestma that he'd earlier used when challenging Leestma's testimony. An increasingly testy Chapman picked a photo he said was of a swimmer who got hit by a speedboat that did not have the gross damage found in Uscinski's photos.
"It doesn't look anything like the pictures you showed," said Chapman.
"It does," replied Uscinski. "It looks almost identical."
Chapman showed photos of Love's brain that he said were made to determine the extent of neuron and axion damage. "That's oxygen deprivation, not trauma," insisted Uscinski.
And when the neurosurgeon explained that the heart can keep pumping even if the axions to the brain stem are damaged, Chapman asked, "So she's still lying there now with her heart pumping today?"
After a lunch break, the defense rested shortly after 2pm. Huguely never testified in his own defense.
Updated Feb. 20 with comments from David Heilberg.This story is a part of the Huguely trial coverage special.Read more on: huguely