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Questions about stab wounds on defendant lead to sparks in murder trial

The prosecution was within a few questions of resting its case Tuesday afternoon in the murder trial of Daniel Whiting of Lackawanna when the proceedings took an evidentiary detour and almost ran into a brick wall. Defense counsel was threatening to essentially boycott the rest of the trial and the assistant district attorney didn’t want to go forward without consulting with her appeals expert.

“I will not sum up or ask another question in this case,” defense attorney Andrew LoTempio said as he demanded a two-week recess to prepare to cross-exam a witness about self-inflicted stab wounds.

He was accusing prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable of bringing in an expert witness on self-inflicted stab wounds without notifying him. The witness was the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Ashley Whiting, the 21-year-old mother who was stabbed to death in her home last July 1 while her two young children slept nearby. Her husband is charged with murdering her. Closing summations are set to begin Wednesday morning.

The doctor was the prosecution’s final witness after more than a week of testimony. She was questioned about the 30 stab wounds that Ashley Whiting sustained in the brutal attack. Daniel Whiting has claimed an unknown intruder broke into their home and attacked the couple as they slept. He also came away with injuries that night, including two deep wounds in his left leg, one of which severed an artery.

Investigators testified earlier that they found no evidence of a break-in or of anyone else being in the house. Whiting was arrested 10 days after his wife was killed when he was released from the hospital after undergoing surgery for his injuries.

Questions about Daniel Whiting’s injuries appeared to be almost an afterthought following the doctor’s clinically graphic description of each of the 30 “sharp force” wounds on the victim.

Judge Kenneth F. Case overruled LoTempio’s objection that a full cataloguing of Ashley Whiting’s injuries was unnecessary and inflammatory, and Gable went ahead with showing images of all the wounds as Dr. Katherine F. Maloney identified them: the deep stab wounds to the woman’s neck that cut her jugular vein, vocal cords and larynx, the injuries to her side and abdomen; a wound on her thigh that sliced her femoral artery, and cuts on her arms, some deep, others more glancing.

Some of the cuts could have been defensive wounds, Maloney testified, and none were what are called “hesitation marks” – shallower cuts that are almost always self-inflicted. She said hesitation cuts are more commonly seen on individuals who attempt or commit suicide.

This was where questioning of the witness took its turn.

No one ever suggested any of the victim’s wounds were self-inflicted. The same couldn’t be said for the defendant.

Gable and LoTempio began a series of back and forth objections over Maloney’s testimony about self-inflicted wounds, with Gable saying it was irrelevant and LoTempio accusing the prosecutor of blindsiding him with an expert witness.

As the two attorneys began interrupting one another and arguing for the floor, Case stopped them long enough to have the jury leave the courtroom.

After more objections and more personal asides from the lawyers, the judge left the courtroom, too, saying he would review the court record in chambers.

Returning to the bench a few minutes later, Case noted that both sides had a part in opening to door to testimony about Daniel Whiting.

“The horse is clearly out of the barn,” the judge said, “and testimony with regard to Mr. Whiting’s injuries is still relevant.”

It wasn’t enough for the defense.

LoTempio then demanded a two-week adjournment to get up to speed on self-inflicted knife wounds. Without the recess, he said, he would no longer participate in the trial.

“I will sit on my hands,” he said. “This case is already over, judge. I’m not prepared to take on a expert.”

The judge didn’t grant the two-week recess. By then, it was 1:30 in the afternoon. He sent the jury to lunch, gave everyone a chance to cool down and, by the time court reconvened there was a resolution.

With both attorneys back in their seats, the judge said he would strike all the testimony about self-inflicted knife wounds from the trial record and instruct the jury to completely disregard the testimony.

And that was it.

The prosecution rested its case.

And, without calling any witnesses of its own, expert or otherwise, the defense also rested.

The jury will hear closing summations beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

email: mmiller@buffnews.com