SHELBY The pathologist who performed the autopsy on Margaret Tessneer said Friday that suffocation most likely caused the death of the 79-year-old Shelby woman in 2003.
Prosecution witness Dr. Steven Tracy, who works at Gaston Memorial Hospital, testified in the trial of Donald Borders, 54, of Cherryville, who is charged with Tessneers rape and murder. Authorities said DNA evidence links him to the scene of Tessneers death.
Tracy first testified in the absence of the jury, describing autopsy findings that included extensive bruising on Tessneers body.
Abrasions inside the vagina created suspicion for me there had been sexual abuse, he said.
But he couldnt say for sure until the results from a rape kit came back.
Tracy said he was 90 percent sure the cause of death was suffocation a process he arrived at by excluding other possibilities.
Because the many bruises pointed toward a possible beating, he said there was a 10 percent likelihood she died from an irregular heartbeat brought on by the stress of the attack.
While he suspected homicide from the first, he listed the cause of death as undetermined.
Defense lawyer David Teddy objected to Tracy giving the testimony in front of the jury, saying the official autopsy lists the cause of death as undetermined. Also, Teddy said identifying suffocation or heart attack as possible causes of death was more in the nature of speculation theres no scientific basis.
Also, Teddy said there had been no written report required by discovery prior to the trial mentioning Tessneer as the victim of a beating or sexual assault. The only written report is the autopsy, which lists the cause of death as undetermined, he said.
Superior Court Judge Richard Boner limited Tracys testimony before the jury to describing the autopsy findings and giving his professional opinion that suffocation was the most likely cause of death.
In earlier testimony Friday, Shelby Police Officer Todd Vickery described how he collected evidence at Tessneers residence on Sept. 20, 2003.
As he walked through the house on Railroad Avenue, Vickery said he noticed a small photo tipped over on a nightstand by Tessneers bed something that struck him as odd.
He noticed blood stains on egg-crate foam padding on her bed and false teeth on the floor.
Members of Tessneers family hung their heads as exhibit items collected nearly 10 years ago were displayed for the jury. The items included the egg-crate padding, a nightgown and a pair of panties.
Family members left the courtroom before exhibit photos of the house and Tessneers body were shown on a screen.
Vickery said he dusted for fingerprints around the house but didnt find anything identifiable.
He spotted damp bed sheets and clothing inside a washing machine but concluded these items had been in the machine before the crime occurred.
At one point, Vickery said he heard a strange noise in the house and found Shelby Police Sgt. Jimmy Glover cleaning the washing machine with a squirt bottle of Windex.
It was something Ive never seen before or since, Vickery said.
On cross-examination by Teddy, Vickery admitted he and Glover had a heated discussion about Glovers actions.
Although Vickery hadnt found any fingerprints on the washing machine I was not afforded the last observation on his standard practice of a final walk-through.
Teddy has contended the crime scene was contaminated by a number of people, including police officers.
On Friday, his questions to Vickery focused on security of the scene and officers failure to maintain documentation during the investigation.
In other testimony, Shelby Police Detective Chris Truett described how three of Tessneers family members were shown a police lineup in 2009.
Tessneers daughter, Libby Clark, identified a mug shot of Borders as someone she may have seen in the neighborhood, Truett said.
The trial resumes Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
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