Details of injuries raise questions in murder trial

There’s no question Kornelia Englemann was severely beaten before she died. The 58-year-old Montesano woman was found dead June 6 of last year, her bra and shirt torn, severe bruises covering much of her upper body. Her internal bleeding was so severe, an autopsy revealed nearly all of her body’s blood was partially clotted in her chest and abdomen.

Her boyfriend, Eugene V. Elkins Jr., 56, is charged with second-degree murder in her death, and the details of both of their injuries were revealed Wednesday on the second day of his trial.

Elkins allegedly told police the two had argued about five days before her body was found in the home they shared, sometimes described as a “shoving match” in officers’ testimony.

Forensic pathologist Emmanuel Lacsina said he couldn’t be sure when he examined Englemann whether it was a single blow or a series of blows over some period of time that caused the internal bleeding that killed her, but he estimated whatever injuries that tipped the scales were inflicted about the same time, roughly 4-5 hours before her death.

Lacsina said he didn’t find any evidence of internal injury much older than that, which doesn’t quite match up with the timeline Elkins gave police as to when they fought.

Englemann’s injuries were extensive, but Lacsina notably found five cracked ribs, some cracked on the back side of her body, bone marrow in her lungs, bleeding in her brain and a cut on her liver about two inches long and more than an inch deep. All of that pointed toward exceptional force in the blows that caused the damage, Lacsina said.

Despite that, Elkins’ attorney, David Mistachkin, noted police photos of Elkins taken after he was arrested in the Yakima Valley showed only minor scrapes and cuts, with some redness in his knuckles.

“In a situation where Mr. Elkins beat Ms. Englemann to death, you might expect to find some swelling,” Mistachkin said. “You might expect to find some evidence of that on his hands. Did you?”

“It’s not obvious in the photo, but there was some redness,” said lead Detective Keith Peterson of the county Sheriff’s Office.

Throughout the trial, Mistachkin has asked witness after witness about samples of blood and other potential evidence not being sent to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab. Peterson testified decisions on whether to send samples for analysis are made on a case-by-case basis, not as a matter of course.

“We knew that they cohabitated, we expected to see DNA from those two in the residence. Had their been any indication at all that there had been someone else in the residence, those (samples) would be sent to the crime lab for analysis,” he explained.

“Does that mean that no one else was involved, or does that just mean you have no evidence that anyone else was involved?” Mistachkin pressed.

“I don’t believe I can get into that,” Peterson said.

There was another motion for mistrial after another detective mentioned Elkins asked for an attorney after his initial four-hour interview. After some explanation out of the jury’s hearing, Elkins later asked to speak with detectives again without an attorney, but mentioning a defendant’s exercise of a constitutional right isn’t admissible during trial.

“We believe it’s a constitutional error, it’s not harmless as a matter of law,” Mistachkin said. “Even if it wasn’t intentional, and the state didn’t anticipate that testimony, (it) doesn’t even factor in, I don’t think.”

“In this case, it’s a trial irregularity. The defendant is certainly entitled to a fair trial, he’s not entitled to a perfect trial,” Prosecutor Katie Svoboda said.

“I am somewhat taken aback that the statement was made in court. I can only assume the prosecutor sat down with the witnesses and went through everything they were going to say and not say,” Judge Gordon Godfrey said.

Godfrey concluded his instruction to the jury to disregard the comment was enough, and the irregularity didn’t merit the extreme measure of conducting a new trial.

Elkins will present his defense today.

The jury will likely at least begin deliberating, considering whether Mistachkin’s apparent argument that another person may have been involved creates enough of a doubt to return a not guilty verdict.