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Experts testify on forensic inconsistencies in former trooper’s murder trial

Trauma surgeon Ryan Rambaran, left, and Kootenai County Prosecutor Stanley Mortensen demonstrate Friday to a Coeur d’Alene jury the amount of blood loss Kendy Howard would have had if she was shot while still alive in her bathtub. | Alexandra Duggan / The Spokesman-Review
COEUR D’ALENE (The Spokesman-Review) — When former Kootenai County detective Jerry Northrop arrived to Daniel and Kendy Howard’s Athol home to process the scene where she died on Feb. 2, 2021, something seemingly ordinary caught his eye.
The clothes dryer in the home had six minutes left running on it. He pressed some buttons, figured out how long the cycle would take and did the math.
Northrop found the dryer started within minutes of Daniel Howard calling 911 to report his wife had died by suicide.
Former Idaho State Police trooper Daniel Howard, 58, is standing trial in Coeur d’Alene for the alleged murder of his wife, Kendy Howard. He faces charges of first-degree murder and battery. Prosecutors allege he asphyxiated her, then placed her body in the bathtub where he shot her in her mouth to stage it like a suicide.
Northrop opened the dryer. Inside, he found bath mats, towels and clothes. Some of the clothes had stains on them, but they weren’t bloodstains, he told the jury on Friday.
Kendy Howard’s father, Wendell Wilkins, had given her a gun to “protect herself” from her husband, to whom she had awakened one night standing over her holding a pillow, Wilkins testified. Kendy Howard planned on divorcing him, her family testified, and she was already seeing someone else. She was also slated to gain half of his assets in their upcoming divorce, including some of his retirement benefits from the police force. This upset Daniel Howard, according to prosecutors.
Witnesses who worked with Daniel Howard on the force said he was well-trained in lateral vascular neck restraints, a technique to render someone unconscious if they were considered uncooperative with police. He even coached other officers how to do them before police forces around the U.S. got rid of the hold after the death of George Floyd and issues with officers having strokes from the lack of blood flow while testing the maneuver on each other.
Dr. Bill Smock, a police surgeon and director for the Clinical Forensic Medicine Program for the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky, testified Friday as an expert in strangulation. According to his biography, he is an internationally recognized forensic expert who trains police and doctors in strangulation and gunshot wounds. He previously testified in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer convicted of killing George Floyd.
Smock reviewed the scene photos, autopsy report and evidence of Kendy Howard’s death. Originally, her manner of death was classified as “undetermined” until it was reviewed by more medical professionals who decided her death was a homicide.
Smock said Kendy Howard did not have fairly obvious signs of strangulation. The blood vessels in her eyes had not popped, and a small bone in her throat wasn’t broken, which is an obvious sign to medical experts of being strangled. But Smock said if someone applies enough pressure on certain areas of the neck, like in a lateral vascular neck restraint, it would significantly limit blood flow to the point that the blood vessels in Kendy Howard’s eyes wouldn’t have popped.
“If the hold stops blood, you wouldn’t have hemorrhaging,” he told the jury.
Smock also counted 30 instances of blunt force trauma on Kendy Howard’s body that were received before she died. Bruises were observed on her neck, legs, arms, hands and her chest.
“If you’re dead, you don’t bruise,” he said.
The path of the bullet of the gun went downward into Kendy Howard’s neck, which is unusual for a suicide, he said. In most suicides in a case like this, the trajectory of the bullet would go upward. Kendy Howard also had sustained a significant second-degree liquid burn on the inside of her arm, which threw up red flags for Smock. He said people with a burn like that would not decide to take a hot bath.
He noted, “There was clearly a struggle.”
The recoil motion of the gun would’ve broken Kendy Howard’s front teeth. But her teeth were “pristine,” Smock said, which told him that her mouth was open wide enough at the time where she couldn’t have done it herself. And the injuries she sustained to her hands and wrists were more consistent with what he sees in domestic violence victims, rather than someone who would’ve sustained a scrape from the gun’s recoil.
Ryan Rambaran, a renowned trauma surgeon in Pennsylvania, took the stand Friday to demonstrate to the jury how blood flow works around the time of death. He, like Smock, reviewed the case for the prosecution and came to the conclusion that Kendy Howard was shot after death. His conclusion was mostly based on an in-depth examination of her tongue.
A person’s tongue is almost all blood vessels, he said – when you bite it on accident, it takes a while to stop bleeding. A bullet tearing through the tongue would have caused a much more bloody scene than the one that was documented, he said. Scene photos viewed by the courtroom showed the bathtub water was filled with blood, but the bottom of the tub was still visible from under the water.
“A teaspoon of blood would stain a gallon of water. If she had shot herself in the water, it would be so dark red, you couldn’t see the bottom,” Rambaran said.
The amount of blood someone would lose in this type of injury, while still alive, would be 800 milliliters in one minute. If she was alive when the bullet ripped through her tongue and into her spinal cord, Rambaran said, “the blood would have come spraying out of her mouth.” Instead, it was leaking in an upward direction – opposite of the way she was found – from her nose.
Rambaran and Kootenai County prosecutors laid down liquid absorbing pads on the floor in front of the jury to demonstrate the amount of blood loss someone would sustain from a wound like Kendy Howard’s while still alive. Kootenai County Prosecutor Stanley Mortensen stood up in front of the courtroom holding a 1-liter medical bag full of a red, watery substance. As he squeezed the bag, a tube sprayed the liquid out in the pads, emptying within minutes and covering the pads in a giant red stain.
The jury’s eyes never left the demonstration.
Rambaran concluded: “She was not alive when she was shot.”
The post Experts testify on forensic inconsistencies in former trooper’s murder trial appeared first on East Idaho News.

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