Medical expert testifies in murder trial
Prominent New York medical examiner Michael Baden testified Friday that in his opinion Julie Meier died as a result of liver failure rather than beating or strangulation by her husband and accused murderer Monte Meier, as the prosecution contends.
Baden said that due to testimony of Julie Meier’s friends and family who said her skin appeared to have a yellowish tint to it, as well as her general unhealthy appearance, he felt she showed signs of jaundice which is a symptom of a failing liver.
“Once she became jaundiced, unless she got medical attention or quit drinking, she had to die in a short period of time,” said Baden.
Baden theorized that due to the state of her liver, her declining health, long-term alcoholism, and jaundice, that she collapsed and died at her residence.
Baden also addressed cause vs. the manner of death.
“If a cause of death cannot be given to a reasonable medical certainty, then how can I know the manner of death?” asked Baden refuting the prosecution’s claim that Julie Meier was murdered. “One can’t give a diagnosis of homicide when the cause of death is unknown.”
Forensic pathologist Ellen Clark testified last week that staining of Julie Meier’s hyoid or throat bone indicated the bone was broken around the time of death and that the break was stained, as were the rest of the exposed bones, as the remains decayed in the ground.
Julie Meier was last seen in January 1994. Her body was found buried in the backyard of the couple’s Stateline home in May 1996.
Baden said Friday an autopsy should have been performed immediately after the excavation in order to have the best chance of determining the manner of death.
“In my opinion, that period of time could have caused staining,” said Baden of the four days in which the exhumed body sat waiting to be examined. “There could have been a fracture at removal that was then stained during the 96 hours between.”
Baden said in his opinion the bone was broken after death. He said there were a dozen ways in which the bone could have been broken after death including when Monte Meier moved her body from the couple’s residence to the garage, when he buried Julie Meier, when the shovel may have struck the hyoid, or when frozen dirt or a large rock could have fallen onto the bone while her body was being buried, or when a frying pan was thrown into the grave.
Baden testified that some of Julie Meier’s ribs were broken during the excavation.
“Ribs are much more sturdy than the hyoid,” said Baden.
Baden also said the hyoid bone could have been broken by examiners as they cleaned off the skeleton for examination.
A medical condition known as a “blackout” was also discussed by Baden. He testified that this condition, common in alcoholics such as Monte Meier, causes one to forget a period of time while intoxicated.
Monte Meier told investigators he doesn’t remember what happened on the night of his wife’sdeath. Baden said Meier was being truthful.
He said he was impressed with the fact that Meier simply stated he didn’t remember what happened and didn’t attempt to fill in the gaps of the evening of his wife’s death with a story which would support his innocence, as is typically done.
“In my opinion, he didn’t do anything to cause his wife’s death, even though he doesn’t remember,” said Baden.
Deputy District Attorney Tom Perkins began a heated cross examination by asking Baden how much he was paid to testify for the defense. Baden said his normal fee is $250 per hour and he may earn as much as $7,500 for his testimony.
“I’m not a volunteer, I’m a physician,” said Baden. “Forensic means public speaking.”
Baden also changed his testimony under Perkins’ cross examination, saying he only outlined 10 ways the hyoid bone could have been broken after death. He said two ways out of the dozen could have happened before or at the time of death.
Under Perkins’ cross, Baden also said brain damage can be caused by alcoholism including damage to the temporal part of the brain which could cause impulse control problems and violent behavior.