An expert testified Thursday that 72-year-old Donna Lou Bott was alive when she was stabbed in the face, strangled and sustained blunt force injuries, including one that tore ripped the aorta in her heart so badly that her chest cavity was filled with two to three cups of blood.
Utah Chief Medical Examiner Todd Grey told the jury that Bott's death was caused by the combination of injuries, but she would have died from the ruptured aorta alone.
The aorta is the major artery in the heart that carries oxygen-filled blood to the brain and also distributes it elsewhere in the body.
Floyd Eugene Maestas, 52, is charged with capital murder in connection with Bott's death and first-degree felony aggravated burglary regarding physical mistreatment and robbery of another woman, now 89, on Sept. 28, 2004.
Under questioning from prosecutor Kent Morgan, Grey testified that the torn aorta Bott suffered was worse than a bullet wound and even if it happened outside an operating room, she would not have survived.
As long as a person was conscious, such injuries would be "very painful," Grey said, but he could not speculate about Bott's consciousness or the sequence of events that occurred the night Bott was killed.
Grey testified that Bott's death would have been "relatively quick ...a matter of minutes" after the aorta was torn.
Bott also suffered a broken sternum and several broken ribs, bruises and scrapes on her face and other parts of her body, a torn left ventricle in her heart, loosened teeth, a lip that was perforated all the way through and defensive wounds on her hands, which suggests she tried to fight back.
Questioned by defense attorney Michael Sikora, Grey said that Bott had hardening of the arteries, which meant that her aorta was much like a "stiff old hose" that would have split more easily than the aorta in another person.
The 14-member jury, which includes nine women, also viewed autopsy photographs of Bott's face and body on Thursday. Prosecutors may rest their case Friday after hearing from an out-of-state fingerprint expert, and the defense attorneys would then begin putting their witnesses on the stand.
Typically, capital cases are resolved through plea bargains. This is the first capital murder case to go before a jury since 1996 when Michael Scott DeCorso was tried for killing Margaret Ann Martinez two years earlier. The jury in DeCorso's case decided against the death penalty and gave DeCorso life in prison without parole.If Maestas is convicted of aggravated murder, the jury is scheduled to return in February for a "penalty phase" in which it will determine what punishment Maestas should receive.
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