Defense calls its own pathologist in homicide case

The defense called in their own expert to compare injuries sustained by homicide victim Thomas A. Schmitt to alleged shooter William J. Kemp during Friday’s trial. While both men suffered abrasions and lacerations, Kemp’s hands had a larger number of fresh injuries – primarily on his knuckles – forensic pathologist Eric Vey, of the Erie County Coroner’s Office, testified.

“Thousands of scenarios could have produced those injuries,” Vey told the jury.

Unlike Kemp, the majority of whose injuries were fresh, Schmitt’s hands only had one fresh injury.

“It’s nothing. It’s 0.1 centimeters, it’s smaller than the head of a pin,” Vey said of Schmitt’s fresh injury. “It could be in temporal relation to this incident or it may not be.”

Schmitt also had minor hand injuries that had existed long enough to form scabs. While forensic pathologist Mariane Hamel testified on behalf of the Commonwealth that Schmitt’s scabs probably formed within “30 minutes to an hour of death,” Vey estimated a wider window of time – as long as seven hours. While manual labor could have caused the injury, a physical altercation could have, too, Vey testified.

Vey, who said he testifies on behalf on the Commonwealth “in excess of 90 percent of the time,” identified four additional injuries on Kemp’s hands than did Hamel. He also identified scrapes on both men’s necks as being “compatible with friction caused by the collar of a t-shirt forcibly moved across the skin” – a determination Hamel didn’t make.

The Commonwealth alleges Schmitt had turned and walked away prior to the shooting; the defense alleges Schmitt was actively attacking Kemp when the fatal shots were fired. Like Hamel, Vey couldn’t conclusively determine the time or cause of injuries – but he did offer additional observations.

Some eyewitnesses testified that the gunman and the victim were standing in excess of six feet of each other when the shots were fired. Vey testified that Kemp, “with arm fully locked and fully extended,” would have had to have been standing at a distance of “three and a half feet or less” from Schmitt when the shots were fired.

Vey agreed with Hamel that the orientation of the “muzzle stamp,” or imprint left when a gun is pressed into the skin and fired, indicated the gun was held “not in conventional fashion but upside down.” He could not give additional details about the positions of Kemp and Schmitt relative to each other.

“It’s impossible to state to a reasonable degree of medical certainty the position of the victim and shooter based on forensic pathology evidence alone,” Vey testified.

Vey conducted his analysis using photographs, an inferior method to live autopsy, he said. While he said the digital images provided to him by the defense were of a high quality, he conceded there may have been distortions.

“The difference is that in an actual hands-on exam you can see in three dimensions. Photographs only allow a two-dimensional representation,” Vey testified.

When asked whether being called to testify on behalf of the defense would jeopardize his neutrality, Vey testified that he “did an objective scientific analysis based on my forensic training. To whom that may be useful is up to you to decide.”

Kemp’s trial will resume Monday and is expected to end Tuesday.