Jury debates between strangulation or hanging

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Crawford County Lt. Investigator Jaden McCullick displays evidence in the courtroom, the 2x2 “T” from the post that Jimmy McDaniel said Linda Kline used to hang herself. Attached to the “T” is the extension cord allegedly used as well. (Photo by Correne Martin)

Carl Wingren, a forensic pathologist who was hired by the defense to review Linda Kline’s autopsy report, pictures and medical records, demonstrates how Kline would have positioned herself for the partial suicidal hanging the defense claims happened in the case. Also pictured is Jimmy McDaniel’s co-counsel Vince Rust. (Photos by Correne Martin)

Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Stier performed the autopsy on Linda Kline and believes with 100 percent certainty that this case involves a manual strangulation.

Trial expected to end Monday, maybe Tuesday

By Correne Martin

Blunt force trauma, manual strangulation and a staged scene? Or a partially-suspended, suicidal hanging?

What happened to Linda Kline on Oct. 4-5, 2016? Was she a depressed alcoholic who impulsively decided to take her own life? Or was she murdered by her boyfriend, then manipulated post-mortem to make her look like she’d hung herself by a household extension cord?

What will become of Jimmy McDaniel, her boyfriend and alleged assailant? He took the stand to testify in Crawford County Court Friday afternoon and again Monday. Judge Lynn Rider expects the trial to end today (Monday) or tomorrow.

Two different forensic pathologists—one who performed the autopsy on Kline’s body, and the other who didn’t personally examine her body, but was hired by the defense to review the case—testified, giving strongly opposing opinions about what happened.

Evidence from Kline’s body
Dr. Michael Stier, an associate professor of pathology at the Wisconsin School of Health, has performed 4,000 autopsies in his career. He works for the public, performing autopsies mainly for law enforcement. He specifically examined Kline’s body to determine cause of death. His determination was that Kline died by complex homicide by homicidal violence, which was a combination of blunt force trauma and manual strangulation.

He said she sustained seven blunt force bruises to her head, the largest being on the back of her head and almost 6 inches around; a tear to her left ear; seven bruises to her chest; one bruise to her abdomen; and three bruises to her back, one to the left side back that was so bad he could see the hemorrhage inside of the chest wall. She also suffered bruises to the tops of her hands, wrists, forearms and legs.

“All her bruises, they’re there and they tell a story of what Mrs. Kline went through,” Stier quipped. “My findings are completely inconsistent with even a partial suspension. She has absolutely zero evidence of hanging.”

With typical hangings, Stier said, a ligature furrow (indentation of any shape) appears on the neck somewhere. Especially since, in this case, Stier had the advantage of seeing the potential ligature—the extension cord—he’s certain Kline’s neck did not have a ligature furrow. However, she had a narrow line on the back of the neck, extending onto the sides of her neck, Stier said. It was a horizontal line, which is different in orientation and most consistent with strangulation. Diagonal lines, which Kline did not have, are more consistent with hanging. Stier believes the horizontal marking was a result of either some cloth being pulled on her neck during strangulation or from an attempt to simulate hanging.

“The mark on the back of her neck was not made before she died, but I can’t say it was from an extension cord. There’s no evidence to support there was a knot (from an extension cord) close to her neck at all,” the pathologist stated.

Kline also suffered pinpoint hemorrhages to her face, gums and surfaces of her eyelids, all which came from intermittent compressions of the neck, Stier noted. “That’s a hallmark of homicidal strangulation,” he said.

In addition, three finger-size bruises on Kline’s neck, “textbook” fingernail marks and an abrasion near her left jaw were what Stier considered consistent with strangulation and her trying to fend off her assailant.
“There’s no question she was fighting,” Stier affirmed, in an intense tone, pointing at the jury.

One final, tell-tale sign that there was a strangulation in this case, according to Stier, is that Kline died on her back and was there for awhile. He concluded this because of the appearance of blood pooling under her skin at the top of her back.

“When one is vertical in a hanging, blood pools down toward the surface of the earth,” Stier elaborated.

Dr. Carl Wingren, a private pathologist who owns Wingren Forensics, of Seattle, Wash., was contracted by McDaniel’s representation to review photos, reports and medical history in the case.

Wingren believes the line on Kline’s neck, based on pictures he saw, is in fact a ligature furrow. He said she had grass debris on her knees and soles of her feet at the scene, and he saw no evidence of her pants scraped like there would have been if she was dragged.

Wingren also addressed Stier’s notations that there was no mark from the cord in the front of Kline’s neck, though there was petechiae (a red, blotchy pattern from bursted blood vessels) on her neck and face.

“If someone is released from a ligature right after death, it’s possible for [any marks] to dissipate,” Wingren stated.

Ultimately, concerning the line-like mark, Wingren felt it was a “good match” to the “divided highway” look of the potential ligature—the extension cord.

Wingren added that Stier was mistaken in his work because he chose not to dissect the posterior of Kline’s neck, which would have provided him with evidence supportive of a “hanging.”

Wingren stressed that Stier also did not evaluate any evidence from the scene or Kline’s previous medical records that showed suicide attempts and alcohol dependence.

“The largest part of an autopsy isn’t in the morgue. It’s actually at the scene,” he said, “and the person’s medical history is also an important part of an autopsy. It can add a huge amount of weight to the matter.”

Another hole in the prosecution’s case, according to Wingren, is that law enforcement did not photograph or make note of any injuries to McDaniel the night of the incident. Doing so could have revealed nail scratches to his hands or other bruises associated with strangulation, if that were the case.

Stier said, when testifying, that he did consider the further details Wingren felt he should have examined. He took a look at her liver under a microscope and said it showed no signs of chronic alcohol abuse. Furthermore, Stier said, “My findings are so extensive, they stand alone.” He said he frankly didn’t need to pursue that additional information.

T-shaped post
A considerable amount of testimony last week centered around the 6-foot, T-shaped post—constructed with a 4x4 wooden pole and 2x2 board at the top—near which Kline’s body was found during the early morning hours of Oct. 5.

Crawford County Lt. Investigator Jaden McCullick testified that he and his fellow officers and investigators at the scene observed the T-post with a white, extension cord dangling from the top of the “T,” where a loose knot was tied at the prong side of the cord. In looking at the structure, he said he questioned whether or not it was strong and rigid enough to support “approximately 150 pounds of dead weight.” McCullick said the post was “rotten and weathered” throughout, as if it had been in place a long time.

“The T-post looked pretty straight, not bent at all. It wasn’t pulled away or even leaning,” McCullick added.

He also attested that, while standing near the post Oct. 5, he decided to reach up, with one arm, and see if he could pull the 2x2 down. “With very little force, I reached up and grabbed it near the cord, pulled down and it separated from the bottom of the post—all three screws,” he attested.

The jury learned that, although the 2x2 was sent to the crime lab, the lab was unable to try to reenact the exact hanging scenario in question involving someone of Kline’s stature.

Not fully disagreeing with McCullick’s testimony, Dr. Wingren explained to the jury that because he felt Kline carried out a partially-seated hanging, it was possible the post didn’t need to be as strong as McCullick believed.

Wingren feels it took Kline 10 to 15 seconds to lose consciousness before she fell backward in death. He said she likely tied the cord around her neck and, with her knees on the ground, leaned forward into the cord, obscuring her carotid arteries and securing death in a matter of minutes. He shared his belief that McDaniel found her shortly after death and untied her from the cord, at which time she fell to the ground.

Kline’s previous medical history and alcohol dependence was a large portion of Wingren’s testimony last week. With McDaniel on the stand and his testimony appearing to focus on these matters as a part of their relationship, more of this story will be reported in Wednesday’s Courier Press. With the jury’s deliberation and decision expected today or tomorrow, those results will be published Wednesday as well.

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