Defense slashing theory refuted
March 18, 2003
One forensic pathologist said the victim was attacked from the back. Another said the assailant was on top and in front. The third refused to choose.
Monday’s testimony in the Lisa Platz murder trial centered on the injuries of Rebbeca Aramburo, Platz’s daughter who was found dead from a slashed throat at a South Lake Tahoe campground on Sept. 21, 2001.
Dr. Ellen Clark, a forensic pathologist in Washoe County, said the cuts under Rebbeca’s chin and other injuries were consistent with someone from behind cutting her throat.
District Attorney Gary Lacy contends Platz slit her daughter’s throat to end a custody battle. Platz, 33, stands trial at El Dorado County Superior Court and faces life in prison on a first-degree murder charge. Her boyfriend, James Csucsai, also in the tent, hung himself in jail seven months later.
After a nine-hour standoff, authorities found Platz had wrist cuts while Csucsai had a throat gash.
Clark was called by the prosecution to counter testimony by Dr. Gregory Reiber. Reiber believes there is stronger evidence that Csucsai, described by the defense as mentally ill, kneeled on Rebbeca and cut her throat.
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Besides believing the direction of the throat cut was left to right, Clark used several new evidence items in making her determination. Rebbeca’s necklace was unmarked and two nicks on the left side of her dark blue sweatshirt could indicate the knife tip was at that area.
Marks on Rebbeca’s jaw line are consistent with finger marks and could explain the assailant’s left hand holding the child’s head up before cutting, Clark said.
Clark also refuted the defense’s theory by calling it awkward. By matching it to the mark’s on Rebbeca’s jaw, the left arm would twist and the attacker’s body would be extremely close to the knife, making it susceptible to injuries, Clark said.
The majority of Monday’s testimony centered on the throat cuts. Clark said a trail below the left ear and the center cut was indicative of a knife tracing the skin, going deep, the becoming shallow again.
Public Defender Rick Meyer reminded the 12-person jury and five alternates that Rebbeca’s blood was found on the pants and left cuff of Csucsai, supporting the theory of the man’s having killed the child.
Rebbeca’s blood was not found on her mother. The child was rolled up in blankets after being cut.
Clark said Rebbeca didn’t seem to bleed heavily since main arteries and veins weren’t severed and there was a sufficient amount of blood left in Rebbeca’s organs. This fact added to Lacy’s belief that Csucsai got Rebbeca’s blood on himself by crawling around the tent.
Clark also opposed Reiber’s conclusion that a left wrist cut on Platz was one solid wound and it couldn’t be self-inflicted.
Reiber, the forensic pathologist believing in a frontal attack, said the left wrist cut was a defensive wound. He called it an “easy mistake” to confuse the single wrist wound as multiple cuts because it was already healing when it was photographed.
Reiber kept firm in his belief of the frontal attack by Csucsai.
As both sides had one forensic pathologist each supporting their theories, Meyer called Dr. Donald Henrikson, a forensic pathologist who performed Rebbeca’s autopsy, to hopefully tilt the scales as the trial hit day 11. Henrikson was initially called by the prosecution on the second day of trial.
Henrikson said Rebbeca’s messy throat slash, which exposed the trachea in the center, was more likely caused by a frontal attack but could not rule out the rear assault.
Henrikson also said he would expect the jugular veins and carotid arteries to be cut from a rear attack.
On cross-examination, Henrikson said Rebbeca’s body could have shielded blood getting on Platz. He also agreed with Clark that he would expect Rebbeca’s blood on the back of her sweatshirt if she was on her back.
Throughout his short testimony, Henrikson remained uncommitted and undecided with the attacker’s location.
“I think this is a complex situation,” he said. “I think wounds in Rebbeca’s neck are very complex. I don’t want to make any assumptions.”
Trial resumes today at 8:30 a.m. Closing arguments could begin as soon as Wednesday.
— E-mail William Ferchland at email@example.com