BOULDER, Colo. -
Jurors in the Susannah Chase murder trial viewed a collection of graphic autopsy photos Wednesday that showed severe injuries to her skull and brain, wounds that prosecutors say the University of Colorado student sustained at the hands of defendant Diego Olmos Alcalde.
The photos were considered so grisly that Boulder District Judge James Klein stepped back to his chambers to consider whether they could be admitted into the trial without unfairly prejudicing the jury.
Mary Claire Mulligan, Alcalde's attorney, requested the photos be excluded. She argued that the images of Chase's brain and the inside of her skull served only to "shock and stir" the jury.
The cause of Chase's death, she said, is not in question.
"There's no need for these bloody brain pictures â I can't imagine they have any value other than shock value," she said. "We will have jurors passing out or throwing up."
Prosecutor Amy Okubo said the photos are important because they speak to the fact that Alcalde intended to kill the 23-year-old CU senior when he struck her with a baseball bat.
"It's gruesome, but that's because that's what happened," Okubo said.
Klein ruled to admit the photos, saying the law favors inclusion of evidence over exclusion and that the prejudicial nature of the photos would have to far outweigh their evidentiary value for them to be kept out.
But he first warned jurors to view them in a "clinical," rather than emotional, manner.
And for the most part, that's what they appeared to do â quietly looking at the photos as Boulder County Deputy Coroner John Meyer pointed out six lacerations to Chase's scalp, three fractures to her skull and areas of bleeding, swelling and bruising on her brain.
He told the jury Chase's head injuries were consistent with blunt force trauma.
"So it's possible she received six or seven blows to the head?" Okubo asked.
"Yes," Meyer replied.
He also spoke about finding abrasions and bruises on Chase's legs, hand, ear, hip and side.
For the first time since the trial began last week, no members of the Chase family were in the courtroom Wednesday.
Alcalde is charged with raping and beating Chase on Dec. 21, 1997, and leaving her to die in a downtown Boulder alley.
Alcalde was picked up by police more than 10 years after the crime when his DNA made a hit in a criminal DNA database to semen that had been found inside Chase.
Alcalde contends the real killer is still out there.
Earlier Wednesday, the jury heard from Dr. William Abbott, the emergency room physician who assessed Chase at Boulder Community Hospital after police found her in the alley.
Abbott testified that Chase had deep lacerations that "extended down to the skull," indicative of "quite a severe force." He said she was "agitated" and "making unintelligible sounds" and it soon became evident to him that her brain was swelling.
During cross-examination, the defense immediately challenged Abbott's decision to backpedal on his original assessment that Chase wasn't the victim of a sexual assault.
"There was no evidence of genital trauma," Abbott wrote in his report nearly 12 years ago.
But on Wednesday, the doctor told the jury a lack of trauma doesn't automatically indicate consensual sex and that about half of sex assaults don't leave signs of physical trauma.
"I was drawing a conclusion that wasn't supported by my exam, and I don't know why I did that," Abbott said.
The doctor's conclusion is important because prosecutors contend Chase was raped by Alcalde the night she was beaten, while Alcalde's defense team says she wasn't raped but instead had consensual sex with someone other than her boyfriend.