by James Zambroski
February 5th, 2006 - Day 20: Addendum
The Star Witness
The defense calls him nothing but a carnival pitchman; the prosecution says he's the best at what he does in the country.
Katherine 'Kitty' Liell's utterance of P.T. Barnum's name on the same breath as Rod Englert's might seem a bit cruel; unfortunately, Englert's high cheek bones, ruddy complexion, twinkling eyes and slightly bulbous nose does carry a small resemblance to the legendary circus showman; the entrepreneur who made Tom Thumb and the Bearded Lady famous.
But Englert -- and Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson -- cite 43 years of crime scene reconstruction experience as the reason his theories about the Camm family murders should resonate with the jury.
On Friday, Englert used an impromptu courtroom mock up of Kimberly Camm's Ford Bronco to demonstrate how he thought the Camm family was slain and why David Ray Camm was the triggerman.
Over strenuous objections from the defense, Englert commandeered two high back, swivel leather chairs normally used by security deputies to simulate the driver's compartment of the Bronco, and three cloth-seated folding chairs, lined in a row behind them, to act as the vehicle's back seat.
They were arranged just feet away from the jury box and judge's bench, facing toward the audience section in the Warrick County courtroom where David Ray Camm is being re-tried for murdering his family 5 and a half years ago.
Using his finger and thumb as the .380 Loricon semi-automatic pistol used to kill Kimberly, Jill and Bradley Camm, Englert, acting as the defendant, walked through and between the chairs to show how he believed Camm shot the family to death.
He cited various crime scene photos, noting their locations on the crude Bronco mock up, as he showed how he believes the crime went down. The pictures, discussed and introduced in the days prior to and during Englert's testimony, depict a variety of blood stains, sprays, bullet holes and a bullet-nicked front windshield.
During his analysis of the original crime scene, Englert used a mannequin, dowel rods and string to show what he believed to be the trajectory of the bullet that struck Mrs. Camm in the head.
Citing blood stains and impact spatter inside the Bronco, as well as photos of Jill Camm still strapped in her car seat, Englert opined how the children were shot to death following their mother's murder. He said he could not determine which child was shot first, but is certain they both were hit while in the back seat.
He tied the shootings and his opinion of Camm's responsibility to certain blood stains found on the t-shirt the former Indiana State Trooper was wearing that night. He said he was able to determine the position of the children at their moment of death by blood stain patterns found inside the vehicle.
Notably absent during Englert's testimony were the previously seen high magnification photos of tiny blood drops found on Camm's shirt and on his left tennis shoe. Englert used large pictures of that evidence that showed the entire garment or shoe to advance the opinion that they each contain high velocity impact spatter, blood that could only have been deposited at the time Jill and Mrs. Camm were shot to death.
The prosecution kept Englert on the stand almost all day Friday, finishing his testimony about a half hour before prior scheduling required him to leave for a trip to Louisville International Airport. Speculation abounded that this was a prosecution strategy to prevent extensive cross examination by the defense until Monday; giving the jury time to digest Englert's various demonstrations over the weekend.
In the brief time allotted to her Friday, Liell literally screamed at Englert about his lack of academic qualifications. He admitted he has no schooling in math, chemistry, trigonometry or physics, saying time after time that such disciplines are not necessary in his work.
Liell even got Englert to admit he'd gotten an 'F' in college physics. Englert acknowledged as much, saying that he "was lucky to get that." The audience and jury roared with laughter, a tactical blunder for the defense.
Questions about Englert's qualifications and background will continue when he returns to the stand on Monday.
Let me step out of this courtroom testimony story for a second to pose a question about what makes an expert, using my own experience and training.
I have a bachelor's degree in English writing from the University of Pittsburgh. During my television career, I've done hundreds of 'live shots,' reporting in real time from something happening in the community, right now.
Could I testify as an expert on live shot reporting during a criminal trial? I'd be able to tell you in great detail what goes on when we do a live shot. How we learn about what's happened, how we get there, what we do when we arrive, how I get the signal through my earpiece to go on the air and what I do, second by second, while reporting such news.
But I have no idea of the electronics necessary to pull all this off. I don't know a thing about how the live truck we use (those vans you see with the tall, skinny pole reaching to the sky; or, as here in Warrick County, the larger truck with the big satellite dish on top) get the signal--the pictures and sound--back to the WAVE 3 News control room and onto TV, out to you.
It works, we do it everyday, several times a day, but I couldn't begin to tell you why or anything about the intricacies of the engineering necessary to pull it off.
Am I an expert or not?
By his own admission, Englert is in the same boat. He has lots of experience in crime scene reconstruction and blood stain analysis, which he uses to form an opinion about what happened. But he can't say why these things occurred, the hard science behind blood flow, trajectories, speed, volume, mass or chemistry and certainly not anything about physics.
Is he an expert or not?
It'll be up to a jury of 12 men and women to determine that; a decision likely to weigh heavily in whether David Camm spends the rest of his life in prison or not.
P.S. Since I'm out of the office for the next several weeks, I can't access my WAVE 3 email account. If you wanna reach me while I'm in Boonville, send email to: email@example.com.