January 14, 1975
Testimony of Dr. George Gammel, M.D.
Scans of original transcript
I, Mary M. Ritchie, being a Notary Public in and for the State of North Carolina, was appointed to take the testimony of the following witness, GEORGE ERNEST GAMMEL, before the Grand Jury, Raleigh, North Carolina, commencing at 10:45 AM on January 14, 1975. All Grand Jurors present with the exception of Jurors Advil Wallace, absent, and Samual Cannady who was permanently excused by the Judge from all subsequent Jury Duty.
Whereupon, GEORGE ERNEST GAMMEL, having been first duly sworn, was examined and testified as follows:
EXAMINATION BY MR. WORHEIDE:
Q Will you state your full name, please, sir?
A My full name is George Ernest Gammel.
Q Are you a medical doctor, sir?
A Yes, I am.
Q Where do you live?
A I live in Columbia, Missouri.
Q And what's your home address?
A 1602 Stoneybrook.
Q And what's your business address?
A Boone County Hospital.
Q And do you hold any official position there?
A At the hospital, I hold two positions. I'm director of the laboratories at the hospital, and, also, medical examiner for Boone and Callaway Counties.
Q What's your medical specialty, sir?
Q Now, directing your attention to February of 1970, can you tell us where you were at the time and what you were doing?
A Yes. I was stationed at Womack Army Hospital. I was in the Army, serving a two-year term. I was in the pathology services at Womack Army Hospital.
Q Now, in that connection, did you perform autopsies?
A Yes, I did.
Q And, directing your attention to February 17, did you perform an autopsy on that date?
A Yes, I did.
Q And, who was the person on whose body you performed the autopsy?
A Colette MacDonald.
Q Now, were you assisted at that time by anyone else?
A Yes, I was.
Q And who assisted you?
A I had two other pathologists there that were on the scene, a Dr. Charles Davis, who was actually the chief of services of the pathology services at the time, and, also, Dr. Hancock. They were the two pathologists.
Q Now, on this occasion, were other autopsies also performed?
A Yes, they were.
Q And who performed those other autopsies?
A Dr. Hancock.
Q And, were you present and did you assist him in connection with the performance of those autopsies?
A Yes, I did.
Q And whose bodies did Dr. Hancock perform the autopsies on?
A On the two children, Kimberly and -- I can't remember the last one.
A Kristen, that's right.
Q All right, sir, can you now just briefly describe to the jury what the procedure is when you perform an autopsy? And, with reference to this particular situation, what you were looking for? How you peformed the autopsy?
A I think the main function of an autopsy is to determine the cause of death; and, then, also, aid any investigators in collecting evidence that might be used on this particular type of an autopsy. So, what I would do first is make a very careful examination of the external surface of the body and record anything I find there, and then collect evidence, such as fingernail scrapings and whatever is directed.
The next step would be to open the body, and usually we open the chest and abdomen and examine all the internal organs to see what kind of damage or what kind of disease processes are present there. And, then, finally, we take the brain out by making an incision in the scalp; and, again, determining any kind of damage or diseases present in the brain.
I guess the last part would be, again, to collect body fluids and tissue for various toxicology and laboratory testing.
Q On this occasion, was there a photographer present?
A Yes, there was.
Q And did he make a photographic record of the autopsy?
A Yes, he did.
Q Now, while you were performing the autopsy, do you dictate what you are doing, and what you are observing, and what your findings and conclusions are with respect to what you do observe?
A Yes. In that particular morgue, we had a microphone set up there. So, while I was doing the autopsy, I was dictating at the same time.
Q Is it a matter of routine, in connection with an autopsy, to make measurements -- that is measurements of lacerations and various types of injuries that you observe?
A Yes, it is.
MR. WOERHEIDE: For the record, I have here a notebook which is marked, "Autopsy Photos - McCaffey." Do you remember Mr. McCaffey, the photographer down there --
A (Interposing) Yes, I do.
who made pictures?
Q And, without showing all of these photos to the Grand Jury, I'm going to ask you, generally, if you recognize, first, the Grand Jury room and the installations in the Grand Jury room --
A Autopsy room.
Q I'm sorry. The autopsy room. And, then, the photograph of Colette MacDonald's body; and then various close-up photographs, taken both in color and black and white, of different portions of her body and different wounds that were inflicted on her body.
A Yes, I recognize all those.
Q I take it that her wounds were primarily in three areas: her hand, her chest, and her arms. Is that correct?
Q Can you describe these wounds? And, you have selected certain slides, have you not?
A Yes, I have.
Q Would it be apprropriate at this time to turn on the projector and start showing these slides?
A I think so.
(Slides are shown for viewing)
A There were basically two types of wounds. The first type would be stab wounds, and the second type would be blunt trauma wounds. First -- I will first of all describe the stab wounds.
(Slide No. 1) This first slide demonstrates the chest and lower part of the neck region, after I've cleaned off the blood. What I'm trying to demonstrate here is at least part of the stab wounds. The stab wounds were of two different types.
One, you would call an incisional wound, or one made by a knife, blad; and these are these elipitical type wounds that you see here.
The other type were little puncture wounds that were made with a small, sharp object; for instance, an ice pick or knitting needle. And those would be like this. (Indicating small wounds.)
At the time of autopsy, I probed each of those wounds to make sure they went through the skin and to make sure they were actual wounds and not specks of blood that had dried. In the photographic reproductions here, you may see spots and things that may not correlate too well with how I dictated at the time. But, I think my numbers will have to go by what I dictated at the time.
How many were there? Well, there were nine incisional wounds in the neck. And, I think all you see here are about four of them. There were some that were higher up, and we'll see that at the next slide. And, then, there were seven incisional or knife-stab wounds on the chest. Four of these were over the sternum or bone part of the body. It had two over on the left side. Here's the left nipple. You're talking about just the -- right over the left upper part of the chest, and then one down here on the right side.
Now, these had gone through and penetrated through the chest cavity and had injured some organs underlying it. There were also -- Now, as far as the other type of puncture wounds, I counted twenty-one puncture wounds on the chest. And there were also three on the left shoulder region. I made a mistake in one of my summaries. I found this out five years later, but I miscounted. But there are -- So, there would be a total, then, of twenty-one plus three -- twenty-four puncture wounds.
Q Well, let me ask you a question before we move on to the next slide. I have here some items, some objects, that we refer to as physical evidence. This is a club, and it has a tag on it that says G-79 for the purpose of identification. Can you tell the Grand Jury whether or not what appears to be a bruise could have been made by an object comparable to this club?
A Yes, I neglected to mention this on this slide; but this should be part of the blunt force trauma, or the wounding that we'll look at later.
This is a deep bruise. We call it ecchymosis or bruise, and it has kind of one little sharp edge across here. And it would be very consistent with some blunt object such as that. I think it would be very consistent with that.
Q Now, I have an ice pick here which has the tag number on it, G-83, and a knife. This is the Old Hickory knife which has a tag number G-82. I believe you have seen both of these objects back in the office. Have you not?
A Yes, I have.
Q Can you tell us whether the puncture wounds could have been made by that ice pick, and whether the stab wounds could have been made by that knife?
A Yes, definitely.
Q Should I proceed to the next photograph?
(Slide No. 2) This is a picture, then, taken from sort of the right and coming in on the right side of the neck, showing the incised knife wounds in the neck, and, also, some of the blunt trauma that we see again down across the chin. Again, I counted nine incised wounds here. As far as what damage they did underneath, they caused bleeding into both chest cavities and into the sack that surrounds the heart. There was a lot of blood, then, internally, as well as externally. And, this is what I would say is the cause of death, bleeding from these multiple knife wounds. There were incisional wounds or knife wounds, then, of the lungs.
The major pulmonary artery, the main artery that goes to the lung from the heart, had a hole in it. The heart was not touched by the knife; but one of the major arteries, left of the heart, was and resulted in a major amount of bleeding. The neck wounds went through the trachea or the windpipe twice and put two rather large penetrating wounds into the trachea and also went into the thyroid gland -- did quite a bit of damage up in there.
Things like this are blood specks that I didn't get off when I tried to clean it off.
(Slide No. 3) This is the head, and we start to go into the blunt force trauma that we had. There were at least six areas where I could see very clearly where we had blunt force trauma to the head.
We had a laceration on both temple regions. One down the middle. We had one kind of back on the top of the head. That would be on the right side in the hairline which you can't see by this; and, also, one above the right ear which caused laceration. In other words, it was so hard that the skin above it broke. How do I know it wasn't an incisional wound? Well, the wounding -- the skin is abraded and torn, and it's not cut like it would be with a knife. So, this would be like a blunt force injury. Of course, the one down across the jaw, below the chin, is also.
Q Now, apart from the exterior appearance of those wounds, did you probe in the underlying structure and find any fractures or breakage of --
A Yes, I probed them all first. And, mainly when you first probe, you're looking for a depression, where it was actually pushed in. I did not find this. I did find, however, a small linear fracture of the frontal bone which corresponded more to the one right in the center. It was about a five centimeter fracture line on the frontal -- right in the front of the head. I determined that more by looking inside the skull and down at it from the inside. But, there was a fracture of the skull. Also, the brain was bruised. There was evidence that there had been some bleeding in the back around the occipital lobe which does occur when the head is thrown backward. When the head stops, the brain keeps going; and it hits the back of the skull. They call it contrecoup injury. It means she was hit awfully hard. Notice there is some bruising around the eyes, especially around the left eye. This could well be due to the fracture or the number of bruises.
Q All right, now, referring to this club, could these head injuries -- And I'm referring to these blows that tore open the skin in these areas, the fracture, and, let's say, marks like that, could they have been inflicted by striking Colette with this particular club?
A Yes, definitely.
Q All right, sir.
A (Slide No. 4) Lastly, there were blunt force injuries to both arms, and they were located on the back surface of the arms. That's where the ulna -- That's where all of the bones inside of the arms are located. These are described as defensive type wounds in that when they are delivered, the hands are up in front of the face, and they are trying to ward off the wound -- the blows. These are quite extensive in that both arms were broken.
This is the left arm here, and you can see the deep bruises that have occurred. Up at this end, there is actually a laceration that has occurred. This left arm was broken in two places. The ulna was broken here and up in this area. And, also, you can see up there in the hands -- The hands were also involved in this. The right arm was also bruised similarly and had a similar fracture on the wrist area that actually involved both the radius and the ulna.
Q All right, sir, I think that's the last of the pictures.
Q Did you make an examination as to how long or the approximate time when Colette may have died? Can you, perhaps, explain to the Grand Jurors the difficulties of fixing time precisely?
A Yes. Time of death can only be used as an investigative procedure. Most people have the concept that I could tell you within the minute when the death occurred. But, actually, that is not the case. There are some signs that I look at, and I did look in this case to make sure that the death had occurred at approximately the time that the people were telling me it occurred. And, the things that I look at -- I did take a temperature, which is a rectal temperature; and there are -- I can refer to some of my medical books. They are called body cooling curves and that's if somebody is killed, then his body temperature will gradually reduce down till it becomes the same as the surrounding environment. And from this, I can kind of guage how many degrees centigrade or Fahrenheit the body had cooled and kind of backtrack and give you an approximate --
Secondly, I looked at what they call rigor mortis. That's when you die, your muscles become hard; and it occurs in a particular fashion. After about four hours the jaw, the eyelids, and the main trunk become solid or hard; and the rigor mortis process extends on out then into the fingers. These are the last to become involved.
Putting everything together, here, I estimated that the time of death would be sometime -- Let's see, I said three o'clock, and I was there at nine, so within four to six hours from the time I saw the body.
Q Now, I have a photograph here which is similar to the one on the chest which was projected. You reviewed this yesterday, did you not?
Q And you see numbers have been applied to twenty-one ice pick-type wounds.
Q And those are the ice pick-type wounds that you observed at the time of the autopsy. Is that correct, sir?
A Yes. I agreed that these were as good as I could do.
Q All right, sir --
MR. STROUD: For the record, I'm going to slip in a piece of paper on this. It says Gammel number one for it to be identified.
(GAMMEL EXHIBIT #1 - MARKED FOR IDENTIFICATION)
Q (By Mr. Woerheide) To summarize your testimony, the blows to the head opened up the flesh wounds in the head. They did cause a skull fracture. This skull fracture was not the immediate cause of death.
A I don't believe so.
Q It was a serious injury; but it was not a fatal injury, I take it?
A That's correct.
Q In addition, there were numerous stabbings in the neck and across the chest, but none of these stabbings penetrated the heart. Is that correct?
A That's correct.
Q And your conclusion was that, as a result of her multiple injuries and, particularly, the stabbings by the knife and the ice pick, she bled to death and --
A (Nods affirmatively)
Q And could you say -- Let's say from the beginning, or from the time of the stabbing injuries, how long did it take her to bleed to death?
A Of course, that's very subjective; and I really don't know for sure. But, usually, on a question like that, I'll say minutes; and then I'm comparing that instead of hours. So, I'd say that it would be a matter of minutes.
Q And you would expect to find, from the bloody appearance of the wounds where she was strick with by a club, that some blood could get onto the club and that she would bleed profusely wherever her body might happen to be -- whether on the bed or on the floor.
A Definitely. The scalp is a very vascular area; and it bleeds very profusely, as you know.
MR. WOERHEIDE: Do the members of the Grand Jury have any questions of Dr. Gammel? We're going to have his associate, Dr. Hancock, to testify as to the other autopsy.
Q (By Mr. Woerheide) You did, Dr. Gammel, remove the lungs and the trachea -- I think you said the windpipe? And, these photographs show these organs after they are removed. They show the fact that the stab wounds penetrated into these vital organs.
A Yes, sir.
MR. WOERHEIDE: Let's mark this book in its entirety as Gammel Exhibit #2.
(GAMMEL EXHIBIT #2 - MARKED FOR IDENTIFICATION)
JUROR: Dr. Gammel, did you remove the fetus?
A Yes. I removed it. Yes. I removed all of the internal organs and examined every one of them.
FOREMAN: No other questions.
MR. WOERHEIDE: May Dr. Gammel be excused?
FOREMAN: I do have just one. The fingernail and toenail scrapings -- Was there anything significant, such as skin or dried blood or anything like that under her fingernails or toenails?
A No. When I do this, I just take the scrapings and, whatever, away to the laboratory. And I really don't know what they did show; but as far as I was concerned, I didn't see anything that was particularly significant from my viewpoint. The lab might have picked up something. I don't know.
FOREMAN: Anyone else?
MR. WOERHEIDE: By the way, I think I'll make another exhibit here for the Grand Jury. I have a copy of the three autopsy reports. The first part is Dr. Gammel's for Colette, and I'll just ask you to identify that. Do you recognize that as a copy of your autopsy report?
Q (By Mr. Woerheide) It's dated 17 February 1970, and this part goes -- well, the pages aren't numbered, but --
A You want to make that correction in the final summary? I did miscount the numbers.
Q No, I understand; and I'm sure the Grand Jury understands that a considerable time after the autopsy, itself, you added a little page here as a matter of routine. And you lumped together the twenty-one on the chest and the three on the arm. And, somehow or other it came out with a total of twenty-one instead of twenty-four, as it should have been.
A Yes, as long as they understand.
Q We won't change it. We'll just leave it the way it is, but this was done at a later date and it's just a typographical error.
Q Or an error.
A That's right, an error.
Q Somebody's error.
A I'll take the blame.
MR. WOERHEIDE: I'm going to put the following as one exhibit after Dr. Hancock testifies to the part he did. So, it's sort of just identified right now.
(GAMMEL EXHIBIT #3 - MARKED FOR IDENTIFICATION)
FOREMAN: You're excused. Thank you very much.