IM this article to a friend!

February 18, 2004

Scientist contradicts witness in murder trial

From: Oregonian - Portland,OR,USA - Feb 18, 2004

Alexander Smith was shot while lying down, not while standing up, a forensic expert testifies in the Vancouver case


VANCOUVER -- A Seattle forensic scientist said a man killed in 2000 was lying down when he was shot in the head, testimony that apparently contradicted a witness who said the victim was sitting just before being shot.

Chesterene Cwiklik, a forensic scientist in private practice, was the first witnesses called for the defense in the first-degree murder trial of Christopher Neil Ladner in Clark County Superior Court.

Ladner, 28, is accused of stabbing and shooting Alexander W. Smith, 19, in February 2000 after demanding money he thought Smith stole from a friend.

The friend, Kimber Douglas, 25, who was also Smith's former roommate, testified last week that she went with Ladner to Smith's Northeast 72nd Avenue apartment in Vancouver to get a package her mother had sent her. Outside the apartment, however, Ladner produced two handguns, saying he wanted to scare Smith into returning her money, Douglas said.

Ladner and Douglas are deaf and have testified through American Sign Language interpreters. Smith was not hearing-impaired and had learned some American Sign Language at Fort Vancouver High.

In her testimony, Douglas said she saw Ladner stab Smith in the neck as she stood in a nearby hallway, sometimes watching the front door for visitors or Smith's new roommate.

Moments later, she said, Smith was sitting on his floor-level bed with his back to the wall when she saw Ladner put a pillow or blanket over the gun he was holding and apparently shoot Smith. She said she could not hear the gunshot.

Jeff Barrar, Ladner's defense attorney, asked Cwiklik whether Douglas' version of the killing was consistent with what she saw in photographs and a video of the crime scene and what she read in transcripts of interviews and the autopsy report.

No, the "evidence demonstrates that the victim was shot lying down on the bed," said Cwiklik, who has 34 years of forensic experience.

Blood spattered low on the wall and brain matter found on the pillow indicate Smith was not upright when he was shot, she said, acknowledging she did not see the room or examine evidence firsthand.

Smith was sitting up after he was stabbed, however, because blood had pooled in his lap and pant legs, Cwiklik said.

Clark County Medical Examiner Dennis Wickham testified Tuesday that Smith was stabbed with a knife three times in the left side of his neck and shot once. One of the knife thrusts cut his jugular vein, causing Smith to lose a great deal of blood in minutes.

Smith likely could have survived the knife attack if he had received medical attention, Wickham said. The gunshot damaged his brain, however, and Smith probably stopped breathing, he said.

Deputy Prosecutor Michael C. Kinnie, in his cross examination of Steven H. Teply, a private investigator working for the defense, asked about Teply's March 2003 interview with Douglas.

Douglas went to Vancouver police in January 2001 with details of Smith's death, a crime the defense maintains she committed.

Kinnie read portions of Teply's interview in which Douglas told him the two went to Smith's to retrieve a package from her mother and Ladner shot Smith while Smith was "lying on the bed." But Douglas also told Teply during the interview that Smith's back was against the wall when the two left his apartment.

Douglas is serving 81/2 years for her role in Smith's death.

Ladner was charged in Smith's killing in March 2002. He was taken into custody weeks after the killing on an unrelated assault charge and continues to serve prison time on that conviction.

Barry Brown, who met Ladner when they were both inmates at Twin Rivers Correction Center in Monroe, testified Tuesday that claims Ladner later solicited a third inmate to kill Douglas were untrue.

Ladner wanted the inmate, who was about to be released, to "beg" Douglas not to testify against Ladner for something he did not do, Brown said.

The case is expected to go to the jury today.

Holley Gilbert: 360-896-5721 or 503-294-5900;

©2004 All Rights Reserved