The defense in the John Michael Dean murder trial in Brown County Court rested yesterday after calling one final expert witness.
Defense attorney John Leonard called Dr. Jane Turner of St. Louis, Missouri to the stand as a final expert witness. Dr. Turner is a forensic pathologist since 1992 at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, and has been an assistant medical examiner for the City of St. Louis for 18 years. Turner was noted to have been an expert witness in several cases that was presided over by Special Appellate Prosecutor Ed Parkinson, who is working with the prosecution in this case.
The jury heard details of the mental health history and the events that led up to the shooting death of of 44 year old Rebecca Niewohner on the evening of June 14th, 2019 in Mt. Sterling. Dean is charged with one count of first degree murder in the case for allegedly shooting Niewohner in the head.
Dr. Turner described several medications that had been prescribed to Niewohner. The medications indicated treatment for ADHD, panic disorder, clinical depression, insomnia, and anxiety. Dr. Turner noted that Niewohner had been prescribed lithium, a common medication for those diagnosed with bipolar disorder, in May 2019. Dr. Turner testified that the medication bottle for lithium found at the residence of incident had been left unopened at the time of Niewohner’s death. Dr. Turner said that lithium is an anti-suicide medication. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Lithium is classified as a mood stabilizer.
Turner went on to say that she employed a commonly used suicide checklist in evaluating the manner of death for Niewohner. Turner indicated that by evaluating the decedent’s text message exchanges with several people in the months leading up to her death that she believed the decedent struggled with alcoholism, migraine headaches, financial problems, and relationship issues with the accused.
In evaluating crime scene photographs, Turner testified that she believed the gunshot that caused Niewohner’s death was self-inflicted based upon gunpowder residue analysis, blood spatter analysis, and the belief that Niewohner used her non-predominate right hand to pull the trigger of the gun used in her death.
Citing a study, Dr. Turner noted that about 32% of individuals who commit suicide, use their non-predominate hand in a gun suicide.
During cross examination, Brown County State’s Attorney Michael Hill used other text from the same study that Turner had quoted from to contradict her testimony.
Hill also noted that the study used to show Dr. Turner’s statistics used cases of suicide where homicide was never in question. Hill also noted in his questioning from the same study that the trajectory of the bullet would not commonly match up with that of a suicide, but rather a homicide.
Hill showed that the study also noted that a lower percentage of American women committed suicide by gun and that the study cited another study saying that 92% of people who commit suicide use their predominant hand to perform the act.
Hill asked if Turner had taken into account that Dean had confessed to a friend via text message the evening of the incident that he had shot Niewohner. Turner said that she did, but did not use it to come to her conclusions. Despite being presented with the contradictory information from the study by Hill, Turner maintained that she believed Niewohner’s manner of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
The defense continued to maintain that Niewohner was able to use her right hand to pull the trigger despite being predominantly left-handed.
After an hour and fifteen minutes of testimony, Turner was excused and the defense rested. The jury was dismissed for the day with instructions from Judge Charles H.W. Burch to return this morning at 9AM to hear closing arguments and begin deliberations for a verdict in the case.