Capobianco Trial: Injury Consistent with Use of Serrated Edge Knife

September 19, 2016, 5:26 PM HST · Updated September 20, 6:46 AM
Wendy Osher · 0 Comments
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A forensic pathologist said a scrape on a right jawbone fragment that was found during the search for Carly “Charli” Scott, was consistent with the use of a serrated edge knife, and incision injuries were likely inflicted by “someone attacking her with a sharp object” or someone using a knife to “essentially de-flesh the bone.”

Earlier this month, Maui orthodontist, Dr. John Mickey Damerell DDS, MS, confirmed that the jawbone found at Nuaʻailua in East Maui during the search for Scott, was a “match” to the missing woman.

Dr. Lindsey K Harle a Forensic Pathologist with Clinical Labs of Hawaiʻi testified on Friday in the ongoing murder trail of Steven Capobianco, who is accused of killing Scott, who was 27-years-old and five-months pregnant with a child fathered by the defendant.

Dr. Harle is board certified in anatomic pathology, clinical pathology (2011) and forensic pathology (2012), a practice of medicine in which the physician is specially trained in the investigation of death, including the performance of an autopsy, looking at a patient’s medical history and the reviewing the totality of a death investigation.

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“Long Reg Hair” Stuck in Debris on Jawbone, Animal Origin Ruled Out

On Saturday Feb. 15, 2014, at approximately 2 p.m., the Maui Police Department requested that Dr. Harle look at a two fragments of a lower jawbone that had been found to initially determine if it was human and potentially that of Scott or someone else.

“On that date, I came up to the morgue and I looked at the jaw and I determined that it was human, and it was an adult human, and that was the extent of my examination on that date. That allowed them to at least know that it was possibly related to Carly Scott,” said Dr. Harle, who said she based her conclusion on her training and experience in recognizing human versus non-human bones.

“There were eight teeth present and the remaining teeth were missing; and there was some dirt and mud and some grassy debris as well as some insects on the bones.  There were a couple of hairs stuck in the mud, and there was some decaying soft tissue still attached to the bone,” said Harle, who described the hairs as “red in color and long.”

Harle said she cleaned the jawbone pieces lightly to avoid lifting any possible evidence that might be on them.  “I just washed them lightly to get a better look at them, and then determined that they were human and then at that point I decided to go forward with trying to identify them prior to further evaluation,” she said.

Detailed Examination Begins on Jawbone

On Feb. 19, 2014, Harle said she accompanied Maui police to Dr. Damerell’s office where he took x-rays of the jawbone and compared them to x-rays taken of Scott during an earlier visit to his office.

On Feb. 20, 2014, she again went to the Maui Police Department morgue and examined the two jaw fragments in more detail.  “I again, washed them gently to remove any non-human debris–like dirt and leaf matter that was still on the jaw.  But I washed it very gently so as not to disturb any of the soft tissue that was still attached to the bone,” she said.  “I then examined them visually, took photographs with Tony Earls (Maui police evidence specialist), and documented any abnormalities that I saw,” said Harle.

Harle said she compared the x-rays by looking at the shape, location of fillings and size and pointed out the similarities that she observed.

“We came back on Thursday to do a more detailed examination to determine if there were injuries to the bone or any other identifying or significant features that we needed to record,” Harle testified.

Two Fractures Consistent with Blunt Force Trauma:

“There are two fractures in the jawbone, one is right on the anterior mid-line,” said Dr. Harle, saying it was the fracture that split the right from the left side of the jaw.  “There is another fracture on the posterior side of the jaw,” she said.

“You can see the fracture on the left side of the photo, which is right along the chin, which split the jaw on the right an left half,” said Dr. Harle.

When asked what type of force is used to create a fracture of that type, Dr. Harle responded saying, “This is a blunt force injury, so its created by a blunt object impacting the bone,” said Harle noting that a blunt object “could be any number of things. It could be a rock, or the ground, or a fist, or even a very heavy pipe–any number of things that are blunt.” When asked if a stomp of a foot would create the injury, Harle responded saying, “yes.”

An objection by the defense to the question and answer was overruled by Chief Judge Joseph Cardoza, and allowed to remain on record.

Incised Wounds Consistent with “De-fleshing” or Incision

“Additionally on this jaw, there are some teeth present, and some missing.  Other things that I noted were incised wounds on the bone,” said Dr. Harle.

Explaining further, she said, “In forensic pathology, we have terms we use to describe injuries, so we are all using the same language when we are writing autopsy reports.  So, for example, a blunt force injury is caused by a blunt object, and a sharp force injury is caused by a sharp object.  Sharp force injuries we split into incised wounds and stab wounds.  They’re both caused by sharp objects, but stab wounds are deeper than they are wide, so they’re what you think of when you thingk of a stab wound. They’re deep (and) are relatively short on the skin.  An incised wound is the opposite. It’s shallow and long.”

She went further to explain that an incised wound is like a cut and compared it to a “surgical incision that is long, but not deep.”

There were four (incised wounds) noted on approximately the middle portion of the right jaw, that Harle said were caused by a sharp object.  “They measured from a little less than 1 cm to about 2 cm in length, so that’s about a quarter to three quarters of an inch in length, and about a millimeter in width, which is less than a sixteenth of an inch in width,” Harle testified.

“They were linear, they were parallel, (and) spaced unevenly on the jaw.  And they were shallow in the bone, but sharp edges along the edges of the bone within the depths of the wound, which is how we know it was caused by a sharp object,” said Harle.

When asked how incision wounds are inflicted, Dr. Harle responded saying, “The incised wounds were caused by a sharp object like a knife or some other similarly sharp object. There’s a couple of most likely ways that it would have happened,” she said.

“One would be someone attacking her with a knife or other sharp object hitting her on the jaw and on the face.  Another possibility is that those could have also occurred when someone was trying to de-flesh or remove the muscle and the skin from the jaw,” said Dr. Harle.

“Unique” Scrape Injury Suspicious for Being Caused by a Serrated Knife

On the bottom left portion of the jawbone, Harle said there was a scrape. “It was a unique injury.  It was a pattern type injury meaning that it was regular and uniform and could possibly be matched to a tool that created it,” said Harle.

“This injury, which I referred to as a scrape injury on the jaw, was roughly a square shaped area, and its difficult to view on this photo, but when I was visualizing the jaw personally, you could see that it was composed of multiple, very superficial, evenly spaced lines. I can’t say exactly what caused this injury, but it was suspicious for being caused by a serrated knife with very small serrations.”

In explaining her assessment that the injury was consistent with a serrated edge knife Dr. Harle said, “This injury was composed of multiple, equally spaced, linear indentations of the bone and they were sharp indentations of the bone.  They were of equal width, and equally spaced apart and equal length, and that is the type of wound that you often see when a serrated knife is scraped (on) skin or bone.”

“This was a very suspicious injury for being an inflicted wound by a person because of its pattern aspect, because it appeared to be from a serrated knife. It is a suspicious wound being caused by another person,” said Harle.

When asked how the serrated edge injury could have occurred, Harle responded saying, “There’s a couple of ways that would be the most likely way that that injury would have been inflicted.  One would be someone attacking her with a sharp object on the face, and in that process, scrapping across the bone.  Another possible way that that injury may have occurred is if someone is using a small serrated knife to try and remove the soft tissue from the bone, essentially de-fleshing the bone.”

In explaining the term de-fleshing she said, “That would be removing the muscle and the skin from the bone.  When we talk about the body, there’s the bones and then everything else is the soft tissue… What I’m talking about is using a knife to try and take those tissues off of the bone.”

When inspecting photos of the left mandible, Harle said she could not tell how it came to be disconnected from the rest of the skull.

Testimony Explains Injuries Inflicted by Animal vs Human

“We are trained to know what injuries from animals look like versus what injuries from humans or weapons or accidental injuries look like,” said Harle.

“When you have a land mammal like a canine or a boar, these are animals who have strong jaws, strong teeth, and they attack generally with their mouth in addition to their claws, in the case of dogs,” she said.

Harle continued, “But, what you tend to see when you have an attack by those animals, we think of animals’ teeth as being sharp and they are somewhat sharp, but they are more broad, they are broader than a blade.  So when they attack a human, and bite human skin or human bone, the injuries from their teeth tend to be broad and relatively shallow.  And there tends to be a lot of crush injury from the strength of their jaw.”

“I did not see any injuries or defects in the bone that I would attribute to an animal,” Harle testified.

Dating the Injuries, Time of Death:

When asked if she was able to determine when the injuries occurred, Dr. Harle said, “I can age injuries and tell you when they generally occurred when there’s skin or muscle or an internal organ because in that case, there’ll be hemorrhage or bleeding and there may be a inflammation.”

She continued saying, “There are signs that I can see at autopsy and under the microscope that tell me how old an injury is and about when it occurred, but in bone, there’s none of that–blood vessels or inflammation going on.  It’s just the bone and all of the soft tissue is gone, so I’m not able to date when the injury occurred,” said Dr. Harle.

Harle: Holes in Black Bra Likely Caused by Sharp Object 

During testimony concerning a black bra also recovered from the crime scene at Nauʻailua Bay, Harle said, “I noticed that it’s got some defects to it including the strap being torn, and there’s a tear over the left cup of the bra going into the foam.  There’s another tear on the right side of the strap.  There’s a small tear at approximately the mid point between the two cups.”

Harle continued saying, “These are defects in the fabric where it has been either cut or torn that shouldn’t normally be present.”

“As part of a death investigation, I always examine the clothing,” she explained.  “We are trained to examine the clothing to ensure that the injuries on the body are consistent with what we see on the clothing or vice versa.  Injuries on the body and also defects in the clothing that might give some evidence as to how the death occurred.”

Because there was no body with the exception of two pieces of jawbone and a bone fragment, Harle said there was nothing to compare the clothing to.  She did however find defects in the bra that were consistent with a sharp object.  “There were defects in the fabric that appeared more consistent with something sharp like a blade or scissors rather than a tear,” Harle testified.

Along the side of one cup of the bra, there is a defect that was described as somewhat elliptical in shape.  “This defect appeared most consistent in my opinion to be caused by something sharp.  That’s probably because the foam is relatively thick.  There’s no strands of fabric stretching across it like it was pulled.  So I think this is most likely caused by a sharp object,” she said.

Harle pointed out another hole in the middle portion of a cup that she said similarly would have been caused by something shark that went all the way through to the other side.

Noting “relatively clean edges on the fabric” of the bra strap, Harle said, “there are multiple defects clustered at the midpoint of the photo and these are most consistent with being caused by a sharp object.”

Case History/Background:

Steven Capobianco is standing trial for the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Carly “Charli” Scott. He is also accused of setting her vehicle on fire.

Scott was 27-years-old and five months pregnant at the time with an unborn child fathered by the defendant.  Capobianco has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In the days following Charli Scott’s disappearance, Capobianco had done an interview with police in which he said Scott had picked him up on the night of Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, and dropped him off at his truck that got stuck in Keʻanae on Feb. 8, 2014.

According to the account, both headed back to Haʻikū, with Scott following Capobianco in case his vehicle broke down again.  Scott was reported missing the next night on Feb. 10, 2014, after she failed to show up for work and did not return phone calls and messages from her family members.

The trial is set to resume on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served nearly 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.

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