Jury in Dean Trial Hears Testimony From Forensic Consultant

By Jeremy Coumbes on December 10, 2021 at 4:38pm

Day four of the John Dean trial continued at the Brown County Courthouse today.

42-year-old John M. Dean of Mt Sterling is facing a first-degree murder charge in the 2019 shooting death of 44-year-old Rebecca Niewohner, also of Mt. Sterling.

Friday morning the jury was shown a video deposition of forensic consultant Dr. George Nichols, who testified that due to gunshot residue found on the back of Niewohner’s hands, his findings indicated that the contact head wound on the right side of her head was caused by a self-inflicted gunshot resulting in her suicide. Dr. Nichols also testified that more residue was found on her right hand than on her left.

Prosecutors argued that the gunshot residue could have landed on the back of her hands in a defensive manner from Niewohner clutching a head injury near her ear and scalp. The prosecution further asked Nichols if it was possible that a left-handed person could hold a firearm to their right side with their left hand to which he agreed no unless she placed her thumb on the trigger.

When pressed in the questioning, Nichols testified that the majority of suicides he has seen over his career have been committed with the victim’s dominant hand and he was not notified that Niewohner was left-handed when presented information from the case to determine in his clinical opinion, if it was a suicide or what he called an assassination.

The jury also viewed a pair of videos recorded by cameras from the squad car of Mt. Sterling Police Officer Nathan Roush who arrived on the scene soon after the call on June 14th, 2019. In the afternoon session, the defense recalled Brandi Field, a Crime Scene Investigator for the Illinois State Police who confirmed photos she took at the crime scene showing certain prescription drug bottles belonging to Niewohner.

Testimony was also heard by ISP Special Agent Alex Colbrook who was also recalled by the defense. Colbrook testified to his findings from messages extracted from Niewohner’s cell phone. Defense attorney John Leonard showed Colbrook messages from the data extraction not documented by Colbrook for the case, in which Niewohner indicates in conversations that she thought she had some kind of mental illness such as depression.

Following Colbrook’s testimony, Judge Charles H.W. Burch released the jury for the weekend and adjourned. The trial will resume at 9:00 am on Monday.

Due to the usage of a handgun in the case creating what’s called an “aggravating factor,” if convicted, Dean could face natural life in prison.