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First week of Donachy murder trial closes

October 16, 2011

RIDGWAY - In the fifth day of testimony in the trial of Lawrence Earl Donachy on Friday, the defense called upon witnesses that included a sexual assault forensic examiner, former City of St. Marys Police officers and pedestrians who had seen lights on in Irene Challingsworth's residence the night of the murder. Donachy, 36, of St. Marys, is accused of the April 5-6, 1999 rape and murder of Challingsworth. The trial is being held at the Elk County Courthouse in Ridgway before a jury from Butler County and is presided over by President Judge Richard Masson.
The trial opened Friday morning with St. Marys resident Steven Kronenwetter, who was questioned by the defense in regard to an interview and statement he had given to SMPD Patrolman Todd Caltagarone, now chief of police, the day after Challingsworth's murder. Kronenwetter said that while walking past Challingsworth's Walnut Street residence on the evening of Monday April 5, 1999 at approximately 10:45 p.m., he had observed lights on inside the apartment.
Asked if he was familiar with the location, Kronenwetter said he had occasion to walk by Challingsworth's home and place of business "once or twice a week."
When asked by defense attorney George Daghir if it was unusual to see lights on in the home at that time of night and what caused him to take notice, Kronenwetter said, "I don't know, usually I don't pay attention."
Daghir then asked Kronenwetter if he had made mention of the fact that it was unusual to see the lights on during that time while providing his statement to Caltagarone.
"Yes, usually it was dark," Kronenwetter said.
In cross-examining the witness, Elk County District Attorney Bradley Kraus elicited from Kronenwetter that he had contacted police only after learning of Challingsworth's death.
Kraus then asked the witness if he could recall what day of the week April 5, 1999 fell on.
"I think it was a Monday," Kronenwetter said.
Area resident Eloise Nagley stated in her testimony that at the time of the murder, she had lived on the west side of Maple Street near the South Michael Street intersection, in the neighborhood of the Challingsworth residence. She testified that she went by the residence, which had Challingsworth's beauty shop attached, each day on her way to and from work and that on the night of April 5, 1999, she had also noticed lights on in the building and said she "thought it strange."
Nagley also testified that she contacted SMPD the next day after learning of the murder.
In the defense's questioning of City of St. Marys Police Officer Bradley Harshbarger, defense attorney Daghir presented as evidence the business card that he and other police officers distributed at the time in hopes of soliciting information on Challingsworth's murder from members of the public. Daghir asked if it was typical to have a card created for and dealing with a specific investigation.
"In all your years, have you ever seen or carried a business card like this?" Daghir said.
Harshbarger responded that he was not aware of any others.
Former SMPD Sergeant Phil Hoh was then questioned by defense attorney Shawn McMahon about his involvement in the transportation of Challingsworth's body to Erie for medical examination and the subsequent autopsy. Hoh was asked to describe the order in which forensic evidence had been collected from the body of the decedent and recall his observation of the autopsy, as well as post-mortem procedures.
"At what point in time did Dr. Vey [forensic pathologist of the Erie County Coroner's Office] conduct the sex crimes kit? Was it towards the beginning, was it the first thing they [medical examiners] did?" McMahon asked.
Hoh said he recalled that hair fibers, as well as the ligatures from around the victim's neck and hands, were collected from the body before the sex crimes kit was administered.
McMahon then asked if Hoh recalled a blue nightgown, worn by the deceased, also being examined before the sex crimes kit was administered. Hoh initially hesitated before indicating that he was unable to remember clearly. McMahon then provided Hoh with a copy of his Hoh's police report from the incident.
"Based on your observations, did they remove the blue nightgown before the kit was performed?" McMahon asked.
Hoh said according to his report, the nightgown had been removed prior to administering the kit.
Officer Robert W. Lewis of the SMPD was questioned by the defense in regard to evidentiary procedure and protocol in the collection of evidence from the crime scene.
Lewis stated that his primary duties in his involvement with the investigation included speaking with neighbors "to see if they had seen or heard anything."
Lewis testified that he entered the residence on the evening of April 6, 1999, and that in the weeks following he was involved in surveilling the property and area.
Lewis said he also "may have" entered the residence again on April 10, 1999 to "retrieve a camera case, count knives in drawer, and look at another steak knife."
Lewis added that it had been requested that he go through the garbage at the residence and that he searched five bags total.
Asked by McMahon if there were items taken into evidence at that point, Lewis said that they collected "several papers with writing, a lottery ticket and medical gloves."
Kraus asked Lewis if it was standard police operating procedure in investigating a stabbing to "find the object used." Kraus also asked if in the collecting and cleaning of blood evidence, it was usual to wear medical gloves similar to the ones found in the garbage and collected as evidence.
In re-directing the witness, McMahon asked if any knives had been removed from the residence. Lewis stated that he had "placed one in the sink."
The final testimony of the day came from sexual assault forensic examiner Alexandra Schneider, who was entered as an expert witness by the defense. Schneider testified that she is trained and certified in the state of New York as a sexual assault forensic examiner.
She added that she has been doing exams related to sexual assault since 2005 and has performed approximately 500 exams in total.
Schneider said the procedure for collection of sexual assault evidence includes oral swabs, photographic documentation of injuries and bruises, swabs of secretions like semen, vaginal and cervical swabs and fingernail scrapings.
Schneider stated that she was familiar with the facts of the case, as well as the criminal complaints, lab reports and autopsy report.
When asked by McMahon if she had an opinion on the evidence collected by Vey, Schneider stated that her evaluation is "limited to the sexual assault kit."
Schneider stated that semen can be recovered up to 96 hours after intercourse.
In his cross-examination, Kraus indicated that Schneider's report contained sections that were verbatim to those of a federal national protocol report entitled "Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations issued by the Department of Justice." In response, Schneider claimed she referenced sources more recent than the national protocol report issued in 2004, adding that she relied on multiple sources in creating her own report.
In addition, Kraus clarified that Schneider's experience as a sexual assault forensic examiner is limited to exams on live patients and also noted that she was certified in New York rather than in Pennsylvania.
Kraus also disputed Schneider's claim that evidence can only be collected "96 hours after the date when semen was injected." Kraus said that in New York, protocol dictates that evidence can be collected 96 hours after an incident is reported.
In addition, Kraus questioned why Schneider's report only contained references to the examination of the genital area postmortem and did not refer to the ligatures that had been used to bind Challingsworth and were taken into evidence and examined by Vey during the autopsy in Erie.
"Is that not important? You are certified as expert, don't the protocols say look at the ligatures?" he asked.
Schneider said that the ligatures were not included in her report because they had already been entered into evidence, noted in the autopsy report, and were not relevant to her testimony. She admitted there was "a lot not included in my report, like blood evidence, fiber evidence..." and reiterated that her testimony is relegated to the sexual assault kit.
Asked by Kraus if she was being paid for her testimony, Schneider said she was paid "$250 an hour to review related documentation and $350 an hour to testify."
In their re-direction, the defense asked what Schneider relied upon in preparing her testimony.
"Multiple sources, training, conferences and sex assault listserves," she said.
In recessing the court for the weekend, President Judge Richard Masson reminded the jury that they are required to refrain from discussing the case with each other or with their family and friends. He instructed them not to discuss the particulars of the case with anyone and avoid media coverage in newspapers and on television and radio broadcasts.
The trial will resume on Monday morning at 9 a.m.

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