Final Analysis: The Untold Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case - Catherine Crier (2007)
Part III. THE TRIAL
Chapter 27. NO MURDER AT ALL
The following Monday, court resumed with Susan’s redirect examination of Eli. She would keep her son on the stand until Thursday afternoon when Judge Brady announced she had heard enough and halted the questioning. During those four days, Susan trotted out numerous e-mails that her sons exchanged after their father’s death and instructed Eli to read them aloud. “I hope you do join the team and then I can see you soon,” Gabe wrote to Eli in January of 2004.
“I’m disappointed in you,” Gabe wrote in another correspondence. “Get your shit together. You’re siding with a person who murdered our dad.”
Gabriel was not the only brother sending e-mails to Eli. In January 2005, Adam sent one saying he would entertain his mother’s request to write a letter to the court, pronouncing, “I don’t believe my mother killed my father in cold blood, but in self-defense.”
In response to questions from Susan, Eli maintained that his elder brother had threatened to disinherit him if he did not join the wrongful death civil suit that Adam and Gabe filed against their mother.
“If I could just apologize for my language beforehand,” Eli asked jurors before reading Gabriel’s final e-mail correspondence aloud. “Eli, if you believe all that shit, you’re a fucking psycho, and I never want to see you again,” Eli read from the page his mother handed him. “I really should start calling you Susan. Grow the fuck up!”
Looking up from the paper, Eli accused Sequeira of “smiling at him.”
The accusation caught the judge off guard. Straightening herself in her chair, Brady glanced at the prosecutor. For the record, she noted that he was sitting at his table, resting his cheek and chin in his hand and gazing away from the witness box.
“I object!” Susan barked. “The district attorney is making faces at my son.”
Brady drew a breath and instructed Susan to move on with her questions.
“Was it like a smiling face?” Susan asked Eli with regard to Sequeira’s supposed grin.
“Mrs. Polk,” the judge interrupted, warning Susan to move on.
“It was like a smirk,” Eli replied.
Brady instructed Eli not to respond after she had ruled.
“I object!” Susan yelled out.
“Is there any way to take this show on the road?” Sequeira interjected, shaking his head in frustration.
“It is a show,” Eli agreed.
Banging her hand on the desk, Brady terminated the proceedings. “All right! We’re done for the day!”
Humorous though it was, the episode reflected Brady’s growing frustration. Whereas once the judge had been willing to tolerate Susan’s behavior, she was becoming much less lenient. Furthermore, Susan continued to bait Sequeira, and her efforts were clearly taking a toll on everyone involved.
On Tuesday, Susan directed her middle son to read letters he had written to her in jail. She was anxious to point out the sections in which Eli referred to his willingness to take the stand and “tell the truth” about Dad, but she didn’t anticipate the unsettling impact that many of the letters would have on the courtroom. As Eli spoke about his mother’s innocence, his voice sounded less and less like a son, and more like a lover. The impact was palpable, as the jurors shifted in their seats.
“I miss you so much it is driving me crazy,” Eli read aloud from one. “You are everything to me…. The truth about Dad needs to come out.”
“P.S. I wake up and see your face,” the note continued. “I love you enough to burn all I am and meet you in the afterlife.”
Susan cried aloud as her son recited the words to jurors. He had already told the court about the framed photo of his mother that he kept in his locker at Byron Boys’ Ranch. He had made the frame in wood shop and hung it in the locker so he could see her face every day.
The testimony that day was disquieting, and Sequeira recognized that Susan may have alienated the jurors with her son’s writings. Once again the prosecutor had uncovered a weak spot to probe, and the following morning he did just that, announcing his intent to introduce short stories that had allegedly been written by Susan about a wife who murders her husband and a mother who has a sexual relationship with her son.
According to Sequeira, he learned of the stories six weeks earlier during a phone call from Susan’s landlord in Montana, former Congressman Chris Harris, who claimed he and his wife came upon the writings while cleaning the cabin. Harris said the writings were tucked under a mattress in the cabin that Susan had rented from him in the fall of 2001, but he was unsure if his wife had kept them. From the handwriting, Harris’s wife had determined that a woman had written the stories.
Susan argued there was no basis to introduce the material into evidence, as the landlord did not even have them in his possession. “There’s speculation that I wrote the dirty story and that I wrote the murder story,” Susan barked. “That’s totally slander. He [Paul Sequeira] should be ashamed of himself! There isn’t anything they wouldn’t say or do to de-fame me!”
Judge Brady postponed a ruling on their admissibility, saying there were “some issues” that needed to be considered.
Angered at the judge’s response, Susan launched into an attack on Sequeira, at one point blurting out, “The man needs a spanking and the judge should give it to him.” Judge Brady did not respond. Instead, she instructed the deputies to return Eli to the courtroom to resume testimony. Eventually she would rule the stories inadmissible.
In response to questions, Eli portrayed himself as the only one of Susan’s three sons to come to court and “tell the truth,” claiming that his father had hypnotized all three boys during twice weekly therapy sessions at the house. He contended that Felix served them tea and put them in a trance. “I remember not remembering what had happened.” He also believed that Felix was behind the accusations regarding Adam’s sexual abuse by a satanic cult. “It seemed like it was definitely dad’s thing.” And he agreed with his mother that his two brothers were part of a conspiracy to “loot” the Polk estate.
During his final moments on the stand, Eli told jurors that he believed his father’s death could have been prevented if someone had simply reported his abuse to authorities.
“Isn’t it true your dad did try to prevent it and now he’s dead?” Sequeira asked. He reminded Eli that Felix had called authorities several times in the days before his death, saying he was afraid for his life.
“First of all, I believed he attacked her that night, and she defended herself,” Eli argued. It was his contention that Felix was simply trying to set his mother up; that he had “every opportunity” to fix his marriage and had failed miserably.
“Your father’s dead, isn’t he?” Sequeira asked.
“I’m not going to answer that question.”
By late afternoon, Judge Brady had had enough. Susan’s repeated objections and requests to interrupt her son’s testimony with other defense witnesses now seemed like an attempt to keep Eli on the stand—and out of jail—for as long as possible. Brady called an end to Susan’s examination just before 4:30 that Wednesday, directing her to pick up her case in the morning with testimony from Montana real estate agent, Janna Kuntz, and retired forensic pathologist, Dr. John Cooper.
The following morning, Susan’s first witness, Janna Kuntz, testified about conversations she had with Susan in September 2002 while the two were out viewing properties.
“It was not a good marriage,” Kuntz responded to a question from Susan. “You were very unhappy and you wanted to move away, get away.”
The realtor told the court that she was under the impression that Susan’s husband was “a very emotionally abusive human being.”
“Did I express rage?” she asked the realtor, referring to the day she learned Felix had won custody of their Orinda home and their minor son, as well as a significant cut in her support payments.
“I wouldn’t describe it as ‘rage.’ It was more like, ‘Can you believe this? He’s gone and done something again.’”
Under cross-examination, Kuntz agreed that her feelings about the Polks’ marriage were based solely on Susan’s statements. She had never met Felix Polk and could not speak to his character from personal experience. In spite of the one-sided nature of Kuntz’s testimony, her appearance was a relief, as she brought a sense of normalcy to the otherwise chaotic proceedings.
The harmony was short-lived. For her next witness, Susan called Dr. Cooper, a self-employed forensic pathologist from Austin, Texas. Dr. Cooper had reviewed the autopsy report and was in court to dispute the medical examiner’s claims that Felix Polk died as a result of blunt force trauma and bleeding from his extensive injuries. Susan’s former defense attorney, Dan Horowitz, had considered hiring Dr. Cooper when he was in charge of the case, but he opted not to after deciding that the expert witness was a bit of a “kook.”
Susan seemed infatuated by her expert witness, smiling and batting her eyes at the fortyish Texan with the round cheeks, dark hair, and lispy Southern drawl as she stood at the podium. The doctor told jurors that he was an independent forensic expert who was often retained by prosecutors to provide expert testimony at trial. Though he claimed that defense attorneys with “wild theories” often contacted him, he said he usually denied the jobs because “I don’t want to look foolish.” During his career, he performed nearly two thousand autopsies and said he hoped to retire soon to pursue his interest in the medical practices of indigenous cultures.
Dr. Cooper contended that Felix’s heart problems were a “time bomb” and that heart disease, not multiple stab wounds, caused his death. He reached this conclusion after spending more than fifty hours reviewing materials related to the case, including the autopsy conducted by Dr. Brian Peterson, police crime scene photos, grand jury testimony, and letters from Susan that detailed her version of events the night Felix died.
“I believe Dr. Polk died of a coronary event while assaulting his wife,” he testified, noting that the autopsy found that two of Felix’s arteries were 75 percent blocked and his heart was swollen at the time of death.
Dr. Cooper characterized Felix’s stab wounds as “relatively trivial” and claimed they did not cause his death because the “severity of the injuries was really not that great.”
“In your opinion, was my husband killed?” Susan asked, reading from a list of prepared questions she had in front of her on the podium.
“No,” Dr. Cooper affirmed. “I came to the conclusion that the manner of death should be categorized as ‘natural.’
“The stab wounds were not enough for death without the coronary disease. He could have gotten medical attention and survived these injuries,” he concluded.
Rising from his seat in the witness box, the forensic expert strode to the front of the courtroom, his cowboy boots peeking out from beneath dark-colored slacks, and fell to his knees. He was about to provide jurors with a live reenactment of the events of October 13, 2002, as he believed they occurred based on his review of the evidence, and his interpretation was vastly different from that of Dr. Peterson.
Kneeling before the panel, he explained that in order to inflict wounds to Felix’s stomach in the direction they were made, Susan would have to be beneath him, and not standing, when she plunged the knife into his abdomen. Furthermore, Dr. Cooper was critical of Peterson’s findings, particularly his decision to list the exact number of injuries—twenty-seven stab wounds—found on Polk’s body on the autopsy report. It was his contention that Peterson was anxious to dramatize the findings in light of the media attention the Polk case was receiving.
“I would have just said ‘multiple stab wounds,’ because when we fill out these reports we know we’re going to be quoted…. I’ve read the stories in the press.”
“Objection!” Sequeira cut the witness off mid-sentence.
“I’ve read them!” Dr. Cooper shot back, to which the judge issued an admonishment.
Dr. Cooper testified that he found no evidence to support the prosecutor’s claim that Felix was rendered incapacitated early in the struggle by a blow to the head. Holding up a photo of Felix’s head injury, he showed jurors that there was no indication that blood had flowed from the injury to areas of Felix’s neck and back. Blood droplets would be present if Felix had stood up after he sustained the blow, he maintained.
“He hit his head on the tile floor after he fell back from his cardiac arrest,” he concluded.
He testified that Felix’s death was the result of coronary deficiency and that the stab wounds were a contributing factor. This, he asserted, was a clear example of self-defense. Sequeira immediately objected that the witness was not qualified to make a legal assessment. It was one of many objections made by the prosecutor that morning, but his objections never stopped Dr. Cooper from testifying. Ordinarily, a witness stops speaking when a lawyer interrupts; in this case, Dr. Cooper just kept talking. This odd behavior proved quite frustrating for both Sequeira and Judge Brady, who finally called for an early recess.
“I’ve been doing this for a very long time,” Brady told the witness out of earshot of jurors. “I’ve never had an expert witness respond to either party during an objection. Whether you agree with the objection or not, it is for me to deal with.”
“I’m sorry,” Cooper replied.
But Susan could not let the matter rest. Once again, she charged that Brady and Sequeira were conspiring, this time to “intimidate” her witness.
“I’m outta here,” the prosecutor announced, throwing his arms in the air.
“He’s playing chicken,” Susan accused.
“She’s right!” her mother, Helen Bolling, shouted from the gallery, an outburst that prompted a court bailiff to expel the elder woman from the courtroom. Once in the hallway, Bolling told reporters that she viewed her daughter’s murder trial as “unfair,” labeling it a “phony trial.”
That afternoon, Dr. Cooper continued his testimony, listing seven reasons why he believed that Dr. Peterson’s autopsy was not “objective.” There was the “physical improbability factor” with Felix standing five inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than his wife and “direct evidence” such as the injury on Susan’s face and strands of her hair in Felix’s death grip. According to Dr. Cooper, the “defensive wounds” on Felix’s body supported the theory that he was attacking Susan with his right hand while blocking the knife with his left. He noted that the wounds had a leftward slant and clumps of Susan’s hair were found in his right hand. Cooper insisted that the data indicated that Felix “didn’t turn and run.” The fact that Felix ripped out strands of his wife’s hair, punched her in the face, and bit her on the hand was proof that he was the party responsible for the assault, the expert argued. “To me, he did not try to avoid violence, he was trying to perpetuate it,” he said.
In addition, there was also the “distribution” and “multiplicity” of the stab wounds coupled with “the relative position of the two combatants.” Blood from Felix’s chest and upper thighs had flowed to his knees, but not his shins, supporting his claim that Susan was under Felix during the attack. Furthermore, Cooper pointed out that the county’s medical examiner would have found evidence of blood flowing down the back of Felix’s head and neck if he had been struck first on the head by Susan that night. He called the State’s theory that she had initiated the attack with an incapacitating blow to the head “a bogus suggestion,” noting that Felix’s head wound lacked bruising.
The pathologist agreed with Susan’s assertion that Felix’s body was moved after his death, evidenced by blood smudges found on the floor near the corpse. This comment drew objections from the prosecutor, who took issue with the scope of Dr. Cooper’s testimony. Sequeira argued that while Cooper was qualified to render medical findings, he was not an expert in criminal investigations and should not be espousing theories as to how the crime played out. Judge Brady agreed with Sequeira and sustained the objection.
In the minutes before court ended that Thursday, Dr. Cooper made a stunning admission: He did not write a report of his findings, nor did he have any notes to turn over to the prosecutor. Essentially, he had come to court without any of the supporting materials he had used to render his expert opinion in the first-degree murder case.
“Once one knows the truth of the case, one does not need to remain neutral,” he told Sequeira. “One goes with the truth.”
Sequeira’s frustrations, which he had previously directed only at Susan, came out, as his patience with Dr. Cooper disappeared. The prosecutor retorted, “You don’t think it’s not good professional practice to write a report so people can review what your findings are in a murder case?”
Dr. Cooper challenged Sequeira to “subpoena” him, claiming he had not prepared a written report for fear that it would be used as a tool to prevent him from testifying. He also noted he had not been asked by the prosecutor to prepare one.
“I don’t consider it appropriate for you to know all of the details of what I’m going to testify to,” Cooper added.
The discussion was clearly becoming a problem. Sensing a number of issues with Dr. Cooper’s testimony, Judge Brady intervened, halting the cross-examination and clearing the jury and the witness from the courtroom. She informed Susan that protocol required expert witnesses to provide the other side with supporting documents used to render a decision in a case. Susan told Brady that she hadn’t made copies of her written correspondence and claimed there were no notes. When Brady appeared skeptical, Susan launched into a frenzied attack, repeatedly cutting the judge off mid-sentence and accused her of being “wrong.” Ultimately, Judge Brady sided with Sequeira on the matter and ordered Dr. Cooper to produce his report based on the evidence the next morning.
The following morning, Dr. Cooper failed to produce the discoverable materials he had used to prepare his testimony. Brady demanded an explanation. Initially Dr. Cooper claimed to have left them on the plane—after telling members of the court that he had driven up from Texas to testify on Susan’s behalf. He then suggested that a burglary may have occurred in his motel room. From the witness stand, he said that at one point during his stay, he returned to find the door to his room stuck shut, leading him to suspect a thief. Perhaps the documents were among the items taken, he put forward.
Judge Brady was incredulous. “I must admit I am very troubled by the turn of events this morning. Don’t you have copies in your office?”
Dr. Cooper’s answer was vague, and after some back and forth, he suggested the materials could be at his home in Austin.
“Are you married?” the judge inquired.
“Then have your wife FedEx them to court,” Brady suggested.
“Um. My wife is out of town,” the expert replied.
“Do you have pets?”
“Who is feeding the dogs?” the judge asked.
“Um…I don’t know.”
“I don’t believe you and order you to have the letters faxed to the court by Monday.”
It was then that Paul Sequeira lost his temper. The prosecutor, who for weeks had tried to keep his composure, rose to his feet and launched a formal complaint, saying that through all of Susan’s continued attacks and outbursts, he had done his best to remain in control. “But this latest shenanigan is unacceptable,” he remarked. “How is this happening? This is outrageous! The witness is going back and forth on the existence of these letters. Not only that, but he’s testifying way outside the area of his expertise. He’s creating verbal crime scene reenactments for the jury.”
While Sequeira was criticizing Susan and her witness, Susan attacked Brady’s ruling regarding the papers. In Susan’s opinion, she should not have to provide the prosecutor with the disputed papers if he did not explicitly ask for them beforehand. In addition, she also disputed the judge’s assertion that the laws of reciprocal discovery covered the materials, arguing, incorrectly, that discovery “is a relatively new concept and still being developed.” Susan claimed that Dr. Cooper’s testimony “was completely independent, unbiased, and neutral, and she attacked the prosecutor, calling him a ‘cry baby.’
“He doesn’t like Dr. Cooper’s testimony, so he does a little dance in front of the media and says I’m in violation of discovery,” Susan quarreled.
“I want you to listen to me, Mrs. Polk,” Judge Brady intervened. “If you make any more insults, I will sanction you.”
Despite the threat, it was not immediately clear what the judge had in mind. The situation embodied the paradox that the judge faced throughout the trial: Susan was already in custody, so what other punishment could Brady hand down? It was a difficult situation for Brady, but it was becoming increasingly clear that Susan needed to be reigned in. Susan’s respect for the court had been far from exemplary, but now her witnesses were giving testimony that seemed dangerously close to perjury, conduct that could produce serious consequences for Susan.
Monday morning, Judge Brady made an announcement. Out of the presence of jurors, she informed the court that Susan’s expert witness had “skipped out” on the trial. “He is indicating not only is he not going to return, but he will be unavailable by telephone for this week and he will be traveling,” Brady said, referring to a three-page e-mail she received from Cooper over the weekend.
“In all my years that I’ve been doing this, I have never heard of anything like this before,” she added. “I’ve never had an expert witness take on the role of an advocate and then indicate he has chosen not to come back—that is just not an option.”
Like Judge Brady, Sequeira also expressed his shock after reading the letter that day. “I’ve never seen an expert run off like a scared rabbit before he is cross-examined.”
Cooper cited “the hostile behavior of the prosecuting attorney” as a key reason for his decision to withdraw from the case. “It was regrettable that I was unable to fulfill my designated role in the case during the week I had set aside for it,” he wrote in the letter that was made public later that afternoon. Dr. Cooper told Judge Brady that it was a “pleasure” to appear in her courtroom and assured her that his grievances were not “in any way intended to reflect unfavorably upon the Court…. I hold Mr. Sequeira completely responsible for last week’s debacle. Perhaps he has forgotten that justice isn’t always about winning.”
Cooper charged the prosecutor with crafting a “dramatic smokescreen about some discovery issues that have no bearing on the physical evidence and certainly have nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that an innocent woman is being held on false charges.” He also expressed “outrage” at the county medical examiner, Brian Peterson, accusing him of “irresponsible, unprofessional, and to my way of thinking, immoral conduct.
“Allow me to review the facts as I see them: Susan Polk is on trial for murder because Dr. Brian Peterson…saw fit to present a distortion of the autopsy evidence to the Coroner, to the District Attorney’s office, to the Grand Jury, and ultimately to the trier of fact in a murder trial.” Dr. Cooper wrote. “Not only has Mrs. Polk been indicted on false pretenses, but she has also suffered from protracted false imprisonment and estrangement from her sons as a result of Dr. Peterson’s false representations.
“I see this man to be nothing more than a public menace,” Cooper said of Peterson.
Meanwhile, Judge Brady informed jurors that morning that a “scheduling issue” had arisen, and the court would hear from Dr. Cooper at a later date. Court officials had reached the runaway pathologist by phone and, after advising him of his obligation to come back to court to finish his cross-examination, set a date of May 16 for his return.
In the meantime, Susan called her first hostile defense witness, Gabe’s foster mother, Marjorie Briner. She believed that Briner and her husband, Dan, had “brainwashed” Gabe into testifying against her. Now, she was anxious to paint the middle-school teacher as a member of a money-hungry conspiracy out to rob the Polk estate.
“I have not gained a single cent from your estate,” Briner insisted during a testy exchange. She also balked at Susan’s claim that she had turned Susan’s children against her by labeling Susan as “crazy and delusional.”
“From the very beginning, Dan and I tried to stay as neutral as possible,” Briner replied. “I tried never to use those words. Because those were words that made you very upset.”
Polk and Briner repeatedly interrupted one another, prompting the court reporter to insist they halt the cross-talk so she could transcribe all of their remarks.
“Mrs. Briner, have you ever heard of Pinocchio?” Susan asked.
Briner insisted that she had “nothing to gain” by testifying against her.
“Nothing?” Susan was incredulous. “Didn’t I put you on notice that I was going to sue you for fraud?”
Smiling, Briner acknowledged that fraud was among the threats Susan had made over the months.
“And wouldn’t a guilty verdict get you off the hook?”
During the heated examination, Susan accused Briner of perjury, in response to the schoolteacher’s claim that Susan had been verbally abusive during phone calls and in letters she sent from jail. Furious, Susan commanded Briner to sift through two mountainous stacks of letters that sat before her on the wood railing and point out an instance of “verbal abuse.”
“We haven’t even come close to the area of inquiry I’ve allowed,” Judge Brady admonished. “Move on, this is not relevant.”
“I object,” Susan shot back. “Perjury is always relevant.”
Week three of Susan’s presentation also included testimony from a former colleague of the slain therapist and a former patient who had participated in his group therapy sessions with Susan thirty years earlier. While their brief time on the stand bolstered Susan’s portrayal of Felix as a controlling husband, her monotonous questioning diluted the effectiveness of their testimony.
Psychotherapist Karen Saeger, a former colleague of Dr. Polk’s at the California Graduate School of Professional Psychology, testified to “two Felixes.” “One was tightly coiled like he could spring at you; the other was charming and charismatic,” she said. Saeger claimed that Polk had a “widespread reputation” at the college for his “taboo” relationship with his patient/wife.
Afterward, Kathy Lucia told jurors of Susan’s dependence on Felix during their group therapy sessions at his Berkeley office in the early 1970s. “He was trying to control you, I felt,” Lucia said in response to Susan’s questions.
Unlike her mother or Eli, Saeger and Lucia were two seemingly objective witnesses, who supported Susan’s claims concerning inappropriate treatment that she had suffered in Felix’s hands—especially during her young, vulnerable years. Indeed, it was on this issue that Susan should have pressed harder. At times, it appeared that she failed to realize the chord of sympathy that she could have struck with the jury had she focused on Felix’s emotional manipulation of her at a young age. Regardless of his alleged abuse, he had clearly violated professional and ethical standards in his treatment of Susan, and this behavior left his character open to question. Unfortunately, Susan found it difficult to exploit this weakness, as her evidence about Felix’s behavior often became muddled in her confused accusations of abuse and conspiracy.
By Thursday, the jury had still heard very little testimony relevant to the murder charge when Susan recalled her son Eli to the stand to refute Marjorie Briner’s testimony.
“Is she a liar?” Eli responded to his mother’s inquiry. “That’s just an understatement of her character. She is disgusting, what she’s done.”
Week four got underway with Susan’s list of witnesses interrupted once again by testimony from her “runaway” forensic pathologist, John Cooper. Dr. Cooper returned to court on May 16, and delivered portions of his case file to Judge Brady. After a review of the documents, Brady turned over in excess of fifty pages of documents to the prosecution, holding back portions she ruled to be Susan’s “work product.” Among the materials was a letter Susan sent to Dr. Cooper from jail that detailed her version of the events of October 13, 2002, and was accompanied by a rough sketch. Excerpts of that letter were read aloud in court and released to the public later that day.
Sequeira’s cross-examination of Dr. Cooper focused on the witness’s prior courtroom conduct and his contradictory conclusions regarding the County’s autopsy report. The nondescript carpet muffled the clicking of his cowboy boots as he strode to the witness box that Monday as courtroom spectators poked fun at the Hawaiian shirt beneath his dark suit and tie.
Dr. Cooper was again defiant as he faced off with the prosecutor that morning, repeating his conviction that the murder charges against Susan Polk were “false.” He told jurors that an “injustice” was being carried out in Contra Costa County and he could no longer remain a neutral witness.
“You haven’t sat here and heard all the evidence,” Sequeira rebuked. “You don’t know if she’s being held on false charges.”
“I see that the autopsy evidence exonerates her.” Dr. Cooper reiterated that while the stab wounds Felix sustained were a “contributing factor,” he died as a result of a heart attack suffered during his “aggressive” and “angry” attack on Susan. “I believe it is sound logic to say if he weren’t involved in an altercation, he wouldn’t have died,” Cooper said.
Dr. Cooper contended that Susan’s account of the murder, as depicted in letters she sent him, was “honest” and an “excellent fit” with the autopsy report depicting Felix’s injuries. “My assessment is that she is a reliable eyewitness.”
“Are you aware that Susan believes she is a medium?” Sequeira asked, striding around the courtroom.
“My understanding is that she’s got considerable psychic ability and there’s no reason to doubt that,” Dr. Cooper replied matter-of-factly. “Maybe you don’t believe in psychic ability.”
“Really? So you believe she’s psychic?”
“I have no reason to doubt it.”
Though the questions seemed tangential to the witness’s expertise, Sequeira’s strategy was clear. Dr. Cooper’s strange conduct during his first appearance had already tainted his credibility, and now Sequeira was attempting to sully his scientific reputation further by showing his belief in psychics. It was a clever line of questioning as this placed the doctor in something of a catch-22. On one hand, Cooper could not disagree with Susan’s claims that she was a medium, since such a statement could make it seem as though other elements of her story were suspect. On the other hand, by saying that he believed in her abilities, Cooper inadvertently cast doubt on his own scientific credentials. The doctor emerged from the ordeal looking less and less like a man whose medical word could be trusted.
Sequeira next asked him about Susan’s assertion that her former attorney, Daniel Horowitz, had a role in his wife’s murder.
“I object!” Susan said with a grin. “I never exactly said that. Although, I do think that maybe it’s so.”
On redirect examination, Susan got down on the floor to reenact the events of October 13, 2002. As she lay prone on the courtroom floor demonstrating her position during the attack, she asked Dr. Cooper, “If I were able to kick him in the groin and disarm him, it would be consistent with the fact that I don’t have stab wounds?”
Yes, the pathologist affirmed.
Sequeira was dubious. Walking to the overhead projector, he flashed photos of Felix’s bloodied body and of the deep, swollen defensive wound on his right hand. He then contrasted the images with photos of Susan’s injuries; a red bruise encircling her right eye and supposed bite marks on her hands. “Somehow she got the knife away without sustaining one nick or cut on her whole body?”
“Yes,” Dr. Cooper replied.
Over two days of heated cross-examination, Cooper maintained that Susan’s lack of bruising did not trouble him, and in fact, was consistent with the crime scene.
“I object,” Susan said at one point during the question. “I did have injuries, they were relatively light compared to my husband. My crime is that I survived.”
“The odds were definitely against her,” Dr. Cooper added. “It’s unbelievable that a woman that size would attack a full-grown man—the chances of her survival are minuscule.”
“Yes, it’s, and I’m using your words, it is unbelievable, isn’t it?” Sequeira grinned.
“I would say miraculous. It’s not unbelievable, because it happened,” Dr. Cooper maintained.