|Defense Witness: Dr. Chandler Phillips|
|Written by Mike Mayleben|
|Friday, 06 May 2011 18:27|
Direct Exam: Lindsey Gutierrez
Dr. Phillips stated that he's a biomedical engineer at Wright State University. He teaches about injury bio-mechanics and human factors engineering and has been at Wright State for 35 yrs. He explained that Human factors engineering, is the study of a human in the context of his environment--where the human is doing something and what the interaction is between the human and the environment; like driving a car. He also teaches injury biomechanics, which is the study of the nature of forces that cause injuries to a person, consistent with Newton's laws of mechanics. He graduated from Standford University in 1965 and graduated from USC (University of Southern California) in 1969 with an MD degree. He is a medical doctor and an engineer, he said.
After graduating, he did a residency in psychiatry at Good Samaritan Hospital in L.A., Calif. He was employed by the United States Air Force, as a Captain in the Medical Corp, and was a laboratory officer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for two years. He specialized in evaluating soldiers in "very stressful situations." He was a General Medical Officer for one year in south east Asia, serving in Thailand, but based out of Wright Patterson in Dayton. He studied drug use in soldiers and also did psychiatric treatment for soldiers in Thailand.
In 1970, he wrote a set of examination questions as part of an engineering program. He was licensed as a professional engineer in 1974 in California and in 1980 in Ohio. He studied engineering in the California college system but doesn't have a degree. He was licensed under the system that was in place in the 70's and 80's.
He is considered a "distinguished" professor at WSU. In 1972-74 he worked in the ER at a Lawrenceburg, Indiana hospital. From 1975-88 he worked at Stouder Memorial Hospital in Troy, Ohio. At the same time, he taught as a professor at Wright State, starting around 1975. He's taught neuromuscular and cardiovascular anatomy classes which shows medical students how these systems keep us alive, living, breathing, etc.
He has won honors and awards and has been named outstanding faculty member at Wright State engineering school. He is board certified in the medical field, but there is not a board certification available for any of his fields. He established a reputation based on his research and published works, he said. He has published 120 articles in peer review journals.
Mechanism of injury is how external forces acting upon the body result in specific injuries to specific parts of the body. He teaches how people are injured, and from that basis , "how we can keep them safe and prevent injuries." He said he hasn't been an ER doctor for a while, but people still obtain injuries the same way they did back then.
In 2002, he received an award for significant contributions to aerospace and medicine. Gutierrez held up a college engineering textbook by Phillips and he said he teaches engineering students from that book. There is a portion of the textbook dedicated to injury biomechanics.
He has received more than 30 grants and holds six U.S. patents in the development of medical devices, more specifically, electrical stimulation to recondition muscles in the spinal cord. He has testified in approximately 24 cases, where people have sustained injuries by various mechanisms, like medical devices and other "documented trauma." Gutierrez asked him to be declared an expert in biomedical engineering, human factors engineering and injury bio-mechanics. Arnold agreed, but stipulated those three areas only.
Human Factors Engineering (HFE )relies on medical as well as social factors. You don't have to be a forensic pathologist to understand the mechanism of injury. You study what the person was doing and their interaction with objects; you also look at the height and weight of a person. Medical records are very important, he said, because of the documentation of the injuries.
Gutierrez put a scientific diagram on the screen showing complicated stick figures, but they have little resemblance to a human being. Phillips said it depicts anthropometry which is the science of measuring the lengths of bones, circumference of the skull, etc. Anthro=human, pometry=measurments. He said he uses the diagram on the screen in his calculations. He said the diagram allows you to take a vertical standing height of a human and look at different body parts and give them a length. There are more recent diagrams that exist, but his particular diagram has been considered "authoritative" for 35 years, he said.
Charlie Rittgers, Ryan's first attorney contacted him in 2009 and he was asked if Ryan forcibly drowned Sarah. He reviewed the EMS and ER records, 911 recording and transcripts, defense investigator's notes from talking with EMS, Doyle Burke's notes, Uptegrove/Rittgers interview notes, lab reports, toxicology reports, both autopsy reports, floor plan of the Widmer home and a number of photographs, including the bathtub, he said. He was also granted the opportunity to see the home and said the bathroom was not very large. The tub had been removed when he visited the home.
Gutierrez put a photo of the bathroom on the screen, looking into it from the bedroom. Phillips identified the angle of it and said the tub had been removed. The next photo was from the doorway of the bathroom, looking in, and the corner of the tub was visible. He said he measured the bathroom when he was there, looked at spatial dimensions, the location of fixtures, measurements of cabinets, toilet placement, etc. He measured the threshold, the door height and the door width. He then obtained additional information from the defense on the vertical height of the tub as well as the horizontal width of the tub.
Using the touch screen (after Gutierrez demonstrated how it works), he was able to show the jury where he measured. He measured the nozzle on the tub and calculated the distance from the door to the tub. The faucet nozzle wasn't attached, but was lying on the cabinet counter so he measured it there. He also put the nozzle back in place and measured it that way.
With respect to the diagram, he was asked to do appropriate calculations based on the height and width of Ryan and Sarah. Gutierrez handed him two "stick figure" diagrams; one of Ryan Widmer, the other of Sarah Widmer. On the anthropometric diagram of Sarah, he used her height without shoes and she was measured at 61 inches - 5'1". Gutierrez asked him about the sympathetic alarm reaction. He said in an alarm or stress situation, a person's blood flow increases, the overall body metabolism increases, the energy generation in the skeletal muscle increases, and the muscles become stronger. This is an involuntary physiological response. For example, if a mother saw her child in the driveway and a car backed up hitting the child, the mother would move very fast and become very strong; even to the point of lifting up the car to remove the child if it was hit.
Gutierrez put up a photo of the bathroom and asked what environmental factors he considered in this case. He said, in the environment where two people will interact, he looked at the spacing of the corridor in front of the vanity, and noticed the cabinets didn't come flush to the floor.
Another photo was put on the screen and he said the open door measuring 28 inches covered a tub that measured 60 inches, covering nearly 50 percent of the tub when fully open. A photo showing the corner of the tub was shown, and he pointed out the extended faucet nozzle coming from the wall, saying, all measurements and dimensions in the environment have to be looked at as well as the people involved. He looked at Sarah's autopsy report and "mapped" the pattern of injuries on her body. By looking at the environment he could determine how the injuries occurred and what they meant. His standard procedure is to circle the injuries, both internal and external, then factor in the activity that caused the injuries. None of the injuries can be ignored, otherwise it wouldn't be systematic.
In regards to the injuries on Sarah, he explained anterior approach strangulation and said it’s like what you see in old movies. Arnold objected saying, "His basis for knowledge is old movies?" Overruled.
Phillips continued his explanation by saying, they would have been standing in the corridor area, which is a very confined space, standing very close to each other. Anterior strangulation would require full submersion of the head with the victim's head being pushed backward into the water, looking up at the assailant, but he did not see any injuries like that in this case and the space was too confined to allow that. Gutierrez asked about the carotid artery sleeper hold, approaching someone from behind and pressing the carotid artery until the victim lost consciousness. He said he didn't see any injuries consistent with the sleeper hold or posterior strangulation either. If a victim was approached either way, they would have defensive wounds and so would the assailant. "With their extremities, their hands, their feet, they're going to fight back," Phillips said. If the victim was on their knees outside the tub, the knees would have abrasions and bruises, as well as the top of the feet. The bottom of the feet would come in contact with the cabinet and also have injuries from a struggle. Since the victim is being pushed over the side of the tub into the water, pressure would be put on the pelvic area causing bruising and abrasions.
The bathtub was moved into the center of the room and Gutierrez kneeled down next to it as Phillips explained where the pelvis would make contact. Then Phillips himself kneeled next to the tub, showing his knees up against the tub, and re-enacted his explanation saying the assailant would have two hands on the head, as the victim was bent over; he also said the pressure could have caused injury to the chest, sternum or ribcage.
Arnold loudly objected saying, "He's putting marks on the tub. Jury evidence." Phillips apologized and continued his explanation saying the victim could attempt to escape by pushing their knees backwards, but he didn't observe any bruising or abrasions to the knees.
Gutierrez then asked about someone being in the tub and he replied, if the victim was in the tub, the assailant and victim would be face to face. He said the hands and feet would not be restrained, because the assailant is focused on getting the chest and head under water. "This would allow the victim's defensive reactions again with the hands and feet", he said.
The victim would be thrashing around and fighting, would have skin under their nails from clawing and scratching, kicking barefoot could result in bruised, broken or dislocated toes, resisting by pushing, twisting, and turning would result in scrapes, cuts and bruises. He would have expected to see injuries to Sarah's fingernails, fingers, legs and feet in this scenario, as well as injuries to Ryan. He also would expect this scenario to get water everywhere.
Gutierrez then asked Phillips to clarify the anthropometric diagrams, by asking if he used measurements of both Ryan and Sarah. He replied that he mainly worked off the measurements of Sarah. Gutierrez placed the faucet nozzle on the stand and Phillips identified it as the one in the photo. Asked how someone could be injured by it, he pointed to the open end of it and said if you run your finger around it, the edge is rough and it could scrape, cut or cause abrasions.
His opinion in this case is "Ryan Widmer did not forcibly drown Sarah Widmer" and the basis for his finding is in the interaction between the two individuals. He would expect more injury to Sarah Widmer and would definitely have expected some signs of injury on Ryan Widmer. Nothing further.
Cross Exam: John Arnold
John Arnold began by calling Dr. Phillips the wrong name, but quickly apologized. He then began again by questioning Phillips' background and education, which Phillips repeated. Arnold asked a series of questions of what Dr. Phillips had not done, and he agreed that he hasn't seen a victim of assault or diagnosed an illness since he worked in the ER, 23 years ago. He has never done an autopsy, doesn't investigate crime scenes, and doesn't teach forensic pathology or psychology. He's never written anything on forensic pathology or investigating crime scenes. The textbook he wrote doesn't have any
chapters on crime scene investigation.
He agreed experts don't always have to be board certified, they can just "do it a lot" and have practical experience in the field. Experts come from all backgrounds, he agreed. "You're not here to say there wasn't enough room in the bathroom for Ryan to drown Sarah?" asked Arnold. "No, I'm not here to say that", he said. Asked if he measured inches and feet, would Ryan and Sarah fit in that space, and Phillips agreed, but added that other factors need to be considered, including the size of an assailant and victim.
Surprise is also an element to be considered and sometimes a smaller person can overcome a larger person because people react differently to different circumstances. Trained professionals make mistakes too, and accidents still occur. Phillips said he had no specific knowledge of Sarah having self-defense training and agreed that subconscious reactions are sometimes quicker than conscious reactions. Arnold asked if there could be multiple reactions to an assault and Arnold proceeded to give an example, "If someone swings at you...you could avoid the punch, jump back or hit back?" Arnold acted it out, including jumping backward from the podium. "Different reaction, different people, different results, correct?" asked Arnold. Phillips replied, "Yes".
He agreed there are similarities between strangulation and the sleeper hold. The windpipe is compressed making it difficult to breath, leading to unconsciousness or even death. Compression on the carotid artery results in loss of blood circulation to the brain and fainting. This could happen in a range of 15 to 30 seconds, Phillips said. "Compression of the windpipe or carotid artery is the mechanism for injury, causing the victim to pass out or die?" asked Arnold. Yes.
If a person is submerged under water, their first reaction would be to get their head out of the water. Arnold then quoted from Spitz's book, saying "drowning begins with a struggle to stay above water", and Phillips agreed. Arnold said, Sarah's arm was 27 inches from the top of her shoulder to her finger tips. Was that long enough to reach across the tub and hold herself up? If she was kneeling at the tub, she could have reached to the back of the tub, Phillips' agreed.
Arnold began reading a list of Sarah's injuries; bruising on the right side of Sarah's scalp and forehead, 2 or 3 minor bruises on her legs, bruising to the back of her neck, abrasion on her arm pit, ankle, left hip no injuries to her fingernails, bruising on the anterior (front) of her neck, thyroid cartilage area and Phillips agreed he noted all of those. Arnold read again from Spitz's book saying, "hemorrhages in anterior neck muscles should raise suspicion of foul play. Phillips said he had no opinion on that because it's outside his area of expertise. "Is it possible to bruise after death?" Arnold asked. Phillips said he didn't know because it's beyond his area of expertise. Phillips asked if he could clarify a response to a previous question, but Arnold wouldn’t allow it, saying, "I'm sure your counsel will allow you to."
Phillips said he is familiar with CPR, and agreed that Sarah received about 4,000 chest compressions in 45 minutes of CPR. He said this had the potential to cause injuries but he found no injuries to the internal chest cavity or heart. Asked about the bag valve mask, he knew it's fitted tightly over the nose and mouth, but didn't see any injuries to Sarah's chin or jaw line.
Arnold put up a diagram of anthropmetry, and Phillips said he read a study on the diagram about a month ago but hadn't read if for the previous trial. He agreed that the chart is an "approximation." Phillips said he measured 37 inches from the cabinet to the base of the tub and measured Sarah's knee to the bottom of her foot. It was 17.5 to 18 inches, leaving approximately 19 inches from tub to cabinet if Sarah was kneeling. He agreed there were a number of configurations possible if Sarah was kneeling, including having her feet up against the cabinet, which would put her knees about 19 inches away from the tub.
Arnold handed the doctor a computer printout of stick figure people, which Phillips called "humanoids". Using the colors of the "humanoids" in the computer-generated print out, Arnold described the first scenario. The gray humanoid is standing over the brown humanoid which has its knees on the floor, feet up against the cabinet, chest pressing on the edge of the tub and head in the water with the hands on the back edge of the tub. The assailant is standing between the victim's legs.
The second diagram was given to the doctor, and as he studied it Arnold asked twice if there wasn't enough room in the bathroom. Phillips replied there was enough room but there were other problems with the diagram. Arnold didn't ask what they were. The next diagram showed the brown humanoid with knees on the floor against the tub and the feet not touching the cabinet. The head was being held in the water and the hands were on the bottom of the tub.
The third diagram showed the gray humanoid’s feet between the brown humanoid’s legs with the gray's knees pressing into the buttocks area of the brown figure. Phillips asked for what purpose and Arnold yelled "To drown her!". Arnold asked if he recalled a bathmat as he put a photo up showing the bathroom with towels and bathmat. Phillips admitted that some spaces have hard surfaces, so padding is used.
Phillips said he did not calculate how far Sarah could reach back over her shoulders. He agreed that in his last testimony, he said that Ryan could not have drowned her in the tub but he had not seen the blue prints or gone to the home; "I'd like to clarify that", he said, and Arnold replied, "I'm sure you'll get the opportunity." Pointing to the bathmat in the photo, Arnold asked if he accounted for it and Phillips replied, "No". His understanding was that Sarah had been found unresponsive in the bathtub and Ryan was dialing 911 to get help. He didn't recall if the water was filled to the overflow valve.
He didn't recall how far the faucet was above the bathtub, but remembered the faucet spout being 7 inches out from the wall. If Sara was found face down in the tub with water up to the overflow, he said he didn't know what angle her body would have been in. He didn't consider that Sarah could have been face up because he didn't consider that position in a forced drowning.
He said he considered Sarah as out of the bathtub and only her head was submerged in the bathtub. Asked if the absence of water led him to that scenario, Phillips replied, no, he understood that was the theory of the prosecution. He didn't examine any other theories. Arnold continued by saying, the towels were dry, the magazines were dry and water wasn't splashed about. Phillips agreed and added, "That is why I didn't consider a forced drowning with Ryan Widmer". If he considered that her whole body was in the tub, her body would have been wet, and Ryan would have been wet.
Asked if it's difficult to move a dead body, Phillips replied there are a number of factors to be considered; it can't be generalized. Arnold described the scenario that Ryan opened the bathroom door, which would have obstructed 1/2 of the tub, shut the door, pulled her out of the tub and re-opened the door to pull her to the bedroom. Phillips agreed that would be the events of that scenario, but Gutierrez objected saying, "there was no water in the tub." Phillips didn't recall if the carpet or towel was wet.
Arnold said, "I know it's been a number of years since you were in the ER, but injuries aren't always immediately apparent, domestic violence victims are reluctant to report injuries and a red eye today could turn to a bruise tomorrow?" Phillips replied "yes" to all three questions, but added, "I would like to clarify that answer." Arnold replied, "I got my answer."
Phillips agreed When doing CPR, only about 30% of the blood is being moved, blunt force can be a compression, and hitting something with a dull object may not break the skin. Asked if he measured the blueprints for the size of the interior of the tub, Phillips replied, he calculated the size from photographs. Is the interior of the tub less than 4 1/2 feet? As the doctor looked through his notes, Arnold moved on without his answer, but the judge admonished him to wait for his answer. Arnold replied, Nothing further.
Re-Direct Exam: Lindsey Gutierrez
She began by taking her shoes off and stepping into the tub. "Is it possible that Ryan walked in, scooped her up, then turned and carried her to the bedroom"? Phillip replied, "Yes". Ryan could have held her in his arms in a balled up position and body to body contact absorbs water.
The computer-generated picture that John Arnold used was placed on the screen. The doctor said it showed the cabinet flush with the floor, no protruding faucet nozzle, no bath products on the edge of the tub and no designation for the door. The victim in the diagram is over the tub, showing pressure on the chest. If Sarah had been held down in that position, there would have been marks on her chest across that area, which there was not. He added that in the diagram, if her feet were touching the cabinet, there "would definitely be injuries to the soles of her feet" because Sarah was barefoot. And, he said, the injury forces are not always compressional, but could be from the friction of twisting and turning.
He said people walk into the bathroom, they don't crawl, so they would have had to get in that position somehow. Ryan would have had to get Sarah down and there would be impact to her knees, and since the knees are in contact with the floor, if there's a struggle, the knees would be moving back and forth on the floor and show abrasions. Sarah had no injuries to her chest, feet, or knees, he said.
In the scenario showing the assailant pressing his knees against the buttocks, the doctor said Sarah's pelvic bones would be in contact with the tub in the front but the bruising on her hip was more "lateral", to the side. In the next diagram, the doctor said her fingernails would have been broken or damaged because her hands were on the bottom of the tub. The assailant would be doing two tasks; getting the head under water and locking the knees against the buttocks to keep the victim from moving but in doing the 2nd task, the person has lost the option to stabilize the position that they originally started with. An assailant would be limited when performing the two tasks. He said a person who is being drowned in that position would reach back behind them to try to remove whatever is holding them down, but since reaching behind us is part of our daily living routine, such as brushing/combing the hair, it wasn't necessary to measure Sarah's arms reaching behind her.
The victim's objective is to get their head out of the water so another scenario would be to stabilize themselves with one hand on the bottom of the tub, and reach behind them with the other hand to remove the threatening force, to get the head out of the water.
The doctor said he was provided a video and photos of the prosecution's reenactment of the drowning scene for his other testimony. He had measurements from the scene from those, including the measurements of the bathtub. He watched the video and studied the photos before making his determination that Ryan could not have physically drowned Sarah. Nothing further.
Re-Cross: John Arnold
Phillips agreed that if you use one hand to keep your head out of water, and the other to fight back, that you reduce the effectiveness of both actions by 50 percent. Arnold asked, "What's the primary need for the body to exist, if you know?" Phillips replied, "Oxygen". Moving on with a series of questions, Arnold asked: She was on the bedroom floor nude? “Yes.” You don't know how she was going into the bathroom that night? “ No.” You don't know how Sarah ended up on the floor that night to be forcibly drowned in the tub, while the upright person got down to hold the head under water? “ Correct.” You don't know if the person was wrestled to the ground? “No.”
Phillips admitted that in the first trial, he recommended that the reenactment should be excluded from the trial. Arnold asked, “If Sarah's hands were on the bottom of the tub, you don't know if her fists were balled up like this?”, Arnold balled up his hands to demonstrate. “ I know what is probable”, the doctor replied. Nothing further.