Pathologist: Wounds didn't cause death in Ranchos fight

MINDEN - Wounds inflicted on Jeffrey John during a fight in the Gardnerville Ranchos on June 24 weren't severe enough to cause the 24-year-old man's death, a forensic pathologist testified Thursday.

Dr. Alane Olson, who works in the Washoe County coroner's office, said during a hearing for defendant Michael Ward that she still doesn't know why John died.

His body was found in the front yard of a residence on Tillman about a block from a duplex where witnesses said John was involved in a fight with Ward, 21.

She said John had wounds on the bridge of his nose and his arms that indicated he had been cut with a knife. She said there were lacerations around his lips and bruising on his face and arms.

Olson testified John had interior bleeding in the back and sides of his head.

"None of the injuries was significant to cause death," Olson said.

She is waiting for toxicology results, and if they are inconclusive, Olson said she would test organ samples.

She said John's autopsy revealed an enlarged heart and liver.

"He may have had decreased tolerance for stress, physical or emotional. As far as I know, that had not been diagnosed," Olson said.

"You're not sure what killed Jeff John?" asked Ward's lawyer, Kevin Walsh.

"That is correct," Olson replied.

Ward was charged with battery with a deadly weapon causing substantial bodily harm, battery causing substantial bodily harm and involuntary manslaughter.

At the conclusion of Thursday's five-hour hearing, visiting Justice of the Peace Max Bunch found there was enough evidence to bind the case over to District Court. He set a hearing for July 25 before Judge Michael Gibbons.

Investigator Steve Schultz testified the defendant changed his story several times in two interviews but finally admitting killing John.

"He said, 'I didn't mean to kill him,'" Schultz said. "He said he didn't know how much power he had in his fists. He said some people can be hit like that and just die."

Schultz said Ward called his mother after the interviews.

"His mother instructed him not to hang himself," Schultz said. "Toward the end of the interview, he said he was aware of the potential consequences. That concerned him greatly. He said apologies weren't good enough. He said he should have walked away."

Walsh said his client intended to plead not guilty.

"I am ready to go to District Court on self-defense. The third charge is involuntary manslaughter, and no one even knows what killed the human being in this case. You're missing a critical element," Walsh said. "The trial will be a search for the truth."

Prosecutor Dina Salvucci said Thursday's testimony supported the charges against Ward.

"He's not charged with murder," she said. "There is no indication he intended to kill Jeffrey John. We certainly know the victim was cut with two knives, that Mr. Ward engaged in a fight with two weapons, and Jeff ends up dead.

"Involuntary means a criminally reckless act. Someone ends up dead. That is certainly a definition of involuntary manslaughter. He was not acting in self-defense when Jeffrey John is backing out of the door and running away," Salvucci said.

-- Contact reporter Sheila Gardner at or 782-5121, ext. 214.


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