Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Final moments of soldier's life violent, painful

Belton – The blade is the most personal of all contact weapons.

Those who have been stabbed say that, at first, it feels as if you've been hit with a really hard fist.

People who have experienced slashing wounds – something the medical examiners call incised cuts – say it feels as if someone is unzipping a heavy duty zipper that spans your skin.

In both cases, they say, you are numbed by the sudden attack. You don't even know you've been cut until you see the blood dripping on the floor or splattering on the walls around you.

When death found Staff Sgt. Ryan Sullivan, he was cornered between a love seat, an end table and a couch in his cluttered apartment, a dwelling place that bore all the trappings of a man in long term service to the profession of arms. The First Armored Cavalry squad leader was home from his third tour in Iraq, due to deploy again in January of 2009 when his attacker hemmed him in and delivered at least 35 vicious knife wounds, more than half of them defensive in nature, cuts to his hands and arms, back and torso and the back of his neck as he tried to ward off the steely blows.

Jurors heard testimony of a medical examiner and crime scene investigators during the capital murder-for-hire trial of 3 alleged co-conspirators that described in chilling detail documented by color photos and a two-hour videotape of the crime scene the exact method of the killing and the scene of carnage left by the attack.

According to Dr. Readd Quentin, a forensic pathologist from Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences, either or both of two deep stab wounds, one that penetrated the back of Sgt. Sullivan's neck and severed his jugular vein and the artery that supplies the head with fresh oxygen, and another that penetrated his thoral cavity from the front and penetrated the left ventricle of his heart, would have resulted in a loss of consciousness within 30 seconds, “even if he was injured in Parkland Hospital's emergency room.”

Photos chosen by the doctor to show jurors are so graphic that the entire panel of 6 defense attorneys representing the 3 defendants in the case objected under Texas Rule of Evidence No. 403 that the jurors would be unfairly prejudiced by the gory details of the wounds and the decomposition of the body, which he estimated had lain deceased in the chilled apartment for an estimated 24 to 48 hours before police obtained entry from the management company and found his body amid the strong odor of putrefaction.

State 264th District Judge Martha Trudo overruled the multiple and running evidentiary objections following a brief hearing out of the presence of jurors. The video camera's roving eye wanders in infinite detail from one item to the next – stacks of laundry quarters on a blood-spattered oak coffee table, broad wipe marks of blood on a once-clean beige wall, a large and spreading pool of blood under the right side and head of the dead soldier.

Photos show he died completely at bay, trying to crawl under the table and away from his attacker, a person whom he obviously knew and trusted because there is no sign of forced entry to the apartment.

A well-stocked gun cabinet complete with many rounds of ammunition, scope lights, upper and lower receivers for assault rifles and carbon fiber stocks for sniper rifles bears mute testimony to the deceased's profession, as well as the double-edged fighting knives, a box crammed full of ultra-modern Glock pistols, box upon box or .45 ACP rounds, bottle upon bottle of psychotropic drugs such as Zoloft, Trazadone and Celexa, the drugs of choice administered to troopers suffering from the strain of extended tours in urban combat zones.

Tunics for Class A uniforms hanging in the closet have 4 hash marks on the sleeves that signify multiple tours of duty outside the continental U.S. The first witness of the day, Specialist Jordan Howell, told jurors how the Sergeant failed to show up for morning formation on the first work day following a 4-day weekend.

The company first sergeant ordered him to go to his apartment and see if he was at home, but he could not find him there. He said he knew something was wrong when he did not see his web gear and camelback, .45 and helmet on the rear seat of his car.

He recounted how he and a medic, John Valdez, who is charged with the capital murder, used to accompany Sgt. Sullivan on all-night sniper patrols of the roads in Iraq, searching for insurgents planting IED's while dressed in Ghillie suits.

Prosecutor Murff Bledsoe said in his opening statement that the state will prove that Katie Briggs, a 26-year-old Austin woman who broke off a relationship with the sergeant and then took up a relationship with John Valdez, conspired to collect the $100,000 from Sgt. Sullivan's soldier's life insurance policy with the help of another soldier, Kyle Moesch, also from Sgt. Sullivan's unit.

Testimony about the Sergeant's fatal knife wounds will begin anew on Wednesday morning when Dr. Quentin again takes the witness stand.

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