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Archive for Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Witness disputes autopsy finding

December 5, 2001

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— An elderly Franklin County woman died last year from myriad health problems, not injuries suffered in a severe beating.

That, at least, is the opinion of a Montana pathologist who testified Tuesday before a Franklin County jury.

Dr. Thomas Bennett became the key witness for Raymond Fuller, 24, Gardner, who is being tried for first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and aggravated burglary.

Fuller and alleged accomplice Joseph Hayden, 18, also of Gardner, were arrested after an attack early Nov. 1, 2000, on Vivian Johnson, 85, and her now 85-year-old husband, Howard Johnson.

The couple was beaten after someone broke into their mobile home in the 2800 block of Nevada Terrace near Ottawa. Vivian Johnson then died.

Bennett identified himself as a private pathologist who also is an associate state medical examiner for Montana. He was asked to review Vivian Johnson's medical history and her autopsy report by Fuller's attorney, Eric Godderz, Burlingame.

Under questioning from Godderz, Bennett said he found that Vivian Johnson suffered from heart, artery and pulmonary diseases. She also had diabetes.

"She died from her underlying diseases," Bennett said. "She was injured, but the injuries did not cause her death."

Bennett's testimony countered that of Dr. Erik Mitchell, a Topeka pathologist who performed the autopsy on Vivian Johnson.

Mitchell had said injuries from up to 16 bruises on Vivian Johnson's head and torso, caused by the beating, became superimposed on top of her other conditions and caused her death.

Bennett said there were no signs of shock to Vivian Johnson's organs, as there should have been if injuries contributed to her death. Her bruises were healing, he said.

The jury could begin deliberations in the case today. Godderz said Tuesday afternoon he did not know if Fuller would take the stand in his own defense.

Franklin County Atty. John Dowell and Kansas Assistant Atty. Gen. John Bork rested the prosecution's case against Fuller on Tuesday morning. Bork has been assisting Dowell with the case.

On Tuesday, a new jury will be selected and begin hearing testimony in the case against Hayden. Hayden faces the same charges as Fuller does.

Both suspects are being detained in the Franklin County Jail on $1 million bond.

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