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United States v. Williams

October 18, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RICO RODRIGUS WILLIAMS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion to exclude "any testimony of Dr. Terril Tops bearing on" the autopsy of Sergeant Juwan Johnson, the alleged victim in this case. Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence ("Mot.") at 1. As explained below, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part, prohibiting the government from introducing the autopsy report in evidence or asking Dr. Tops to summarize its contents, but permitting him to testify regarding any independent opinions he has formed based on the report and other evidence upon which he may reasonably rely.

I. DISCUSSION

The indictment in this case alleges that the defendant, Rico Williams, along with other individuals, committed murder by beating Sergeant Juwan Johnson to death on July 3, 2005. Indictment ¶ 5. On July 6, 2005, Dr. Kathleen M. Ingwersen, an Armed Forces Regional Medical Examiner, performed an autopsy on the body of Sgt. Johnson. See Government's Opposition to Defendant's Motions in Limine ("Opp."), Ex. A (Final Autopsy Report) ("Report") at 2. Dr. Ingwersen prepared a written report in which she described the physical condition of Sgt. Johnson's body and internal organs, analyzed the appearance of slices of tissue viewed through a microscope, and relayed the results of toxicology and blood tests. See id. at 4-8. Her conclusions were summarized as follows:

Based on these autopsy findings and the investigative and historical information available to me[,] the cause of death of this 25 year old male, Juwan Johnson, is multiple blunt force injuries reportedly sustained in a physical assault resulting in fatal injury to the heart and brain. Neuropathology findings show the brain injury to have occurred approximately 1-3 days [sic]. This is consistent with the reported assault 24 hours prior to death. The manner of death, in my opinion, is homicide.

Id. at 2. Dr. Ingwersen also signed Sgt. Johnson's death certificate. See Opp., Ex. B (Certificate of Death). In a section of the certificate entitled "Mode of Death," Dr. Ingwersen checked the box for "Homicide." See id.

Since performing the autopsy on Sgt. Johnson, Dr. Ingwersen has retired from the military and moved overseas. See Opp. at 2. As a result, she is not available to testify at trial. Id. at 3. Although Dr. Ingwersen will not testify, the government seeks to place the contents of her autopsy report and the death certificate into evidence by two means: (1) by "introduce[ing] the autopsy report, a diagram created during the autopsy process depicting hemorrhage, photographs taken during the autopsy procedure, photos of microscopic slides depicting hemorrhage and injury at the cellular level, and Sergeant Johnson's certificate of death into evidence"; and (2) by "introduce[ing] medical testimony from Dr. [Terril] Tops," a medical examiner who was not present at the autopsy of Sgt. Johnson's body but who, according to the government, can testify "regarding the types of injuries that Sergeant Johnson had all over his body, the placement of the injuries, the possible causes of the injuries, the medical effects of the injuries, and his opinions regarding the cause and manner of Sergeant Johnson's death." Id. The defendant objects that the introduction of the autopsy report, the death certificate, and any testimony by Dr. Tops regarding the contents of those documents would violate his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

II. DISCUSSION

The Sixth Amendment confers upon the defendant in a criminal prosecution "the right... to be confronted with the witnesses against him." U.S. CONST. amend. VI. "A witness's testimony against a defendant is thus inadmissible unless the witness appears at trial or, if the witness is unavailable, the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination." Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 129 S.Ct. 2527, 2531 (2009); see also Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 53-54 (2004). A declarant is a "witness" within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment if she "bear[s] testimony" against the defendant - that is, if she makes statements that are "testimonial." Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. at 51. As defined by the Supreme Court in Crawford, a "testimonial" statement is one that was "made under circumstances that would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial." Id. at 52. The Supreme Court has held that statements made by scientific analysts - as opposed to eyewitnesses, for example - receive no special treatment under the Confrontation Clause; if a statement by a lab ...


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