A woman whose nearly decapitated body was found at a BREC park near Zachary in May 2008 suffered 21 lacerations to her neck, defensive wounds to her left hand and a blow to the back of the head “sufficient to knock you out,” the doctor who performed her autopsy testified Friday.
Dr. Gilbert Corrigan also told an East Baton Rouge Parish jury that Jessica Johnson Palmer’s 3-year-old son, Juan Palmer Jr., sustained six cuts to his neck. Corrigan also performed the boy’s autopsy.
Dominique Dantoni Smith, who had a child with Jessica Palmer, is standing trial on two counts of first-degree murder in the killing of Palmer and her 3-year-old son on May 4, 2008, at Doyle’s Bayou Park on Port Hudson-Pride Road. He faces a sentence of life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.
Smith, 31, of Wilson in East Feliciana Parish, also is being tried in the attempted first-degree murder of Palmer’s other children: Paige Johnson, who is the child he had with Palmer, and Robbyn Palmer. Paige, whose throat also was slit in the attack, and Robbyn were left overnight in the park for dead. Paige and Robbyn were 4 years old and 6 months old, respectively, at the time.
Prosecutors, who began presenting their case Monday, rested that case Friday after Corrigan completed his testimony. The defense called two witnesses before the trial was recessed until Saturday. It may stretch into Sunday.
While Corrigan was on the witness stand, the jury and courtroom observers viewed graphic autopsy photographs showing the horrific injuries to Jessica Palmer and Juan. Some jurors put a hand over their mouths when the photos were displayed on television monitors. Even veteran East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Darwin Miller became choked up.
An upset Juan Palmer Sr., the father of the 3-year-old who was killed, left the courtroom when his son’s autopsy pictures were put on display. Juan and Jessica Palmer were separated at the time of the park attack.
“It won’t tell us who did it?” Daryl Gold, one of Smith’s attorneys, asked Corrigan in reference to the autopsies.
“No,” the doctor replied.
Trendall Lashel Matthews, who testified earlier in the week that Smith was her boyfriend at the time of the attacks, pleaded guilty to the same murder and attempted murder charges in 2011 in exchange for two life sentences. She had faced a possible death sentence.
Matthews, 25, of Jackson in East Feliciana Parish, testified that Smith cut Jessica Palmer, Juan Jr. and Paige. She also said Smith hit Jessica Palmer with a baseball bat.
Sheriff’s detectives testified previously at pretrial hearings that Smith implicated himself and Matthews in the attacks. Smith said he and Palmer went for a walk, during which he grabbed her hands while Matthews attacked her, according to an arrest affidavit.
Corrigan said there was no way to determine whether the fatal wounds to Jessica Palmer and Juan and the injuries to Paige were the work of just one person or more.
Dr. Catherine Lowe, who tended to Paige in an emergency room at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge on May 5, 2008, testified Friday she asked the girl what happened to her.
“She told me that lady cut me,” Lowe said. “She said with a small knife.”
A day earlier, East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy Gary Morris testified he spoke briefly with Paige at the park before she was taken to OLOL and the girl had stated it was her father who cut her neck.
Lowe testified that Paige was in shock when she spoke with the girl.
Paige, who is now 9, testified Wednesday that her dad and a lady “came out of the woods” and attacked them, but she said it was her dad who cut her mom and brother. She also said the lady hit her mom with a bat.
East Baton Rouge Parish Emergency Medical Services paramedic George Steffonson testified Thursday that Paige told him in an ambulance ride from the park to OLOL that a lady killed her mom and little brother in the park.
Elton Richey, one of Smith’s attorneys, argued to the jury on Monday that Smith was at a jogging track behind Lane Memorial Regional Medical Center in Zachary at the time of the crimes.
East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s detective Leonardo Moore, who was called Friday as a defense witness, testified Matthews refused to speak with him the evening of May 5, 2008.
Moore said Matthews spoke with him three days later after she said she read in the newspaper that Smith had made incriminating statements about her.
The defense team also called Juan Palmer Sr. to the stand about a video — titled “I Miss You” — that he put on a social network site.
The video, shot at the park, shows crime scene tape and sheets on the ground as if to cover bodies. Paige is seen in the video, as is Juan Palmer Sr.’s truck.
Juan Palmer Sr. said he gave a copy of the video to Elaine Johnson, who is Jessica Palmer’s mother and Paige’s grandmother.
Paige lives with her grandmother. Juan Palmer Sr. said he never suggested to Paige what she should say about the park attack.
In Paige’s trial testimony, she said she got to the park back in May 2008 in her dad’s red truck. Juan Palmer Sr., who also testified earlier in the week as a prosecution witness, said during that testimony that he was questioned by law enforcement after the park attack but no charges were ever filed.