Washington County Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street reversed a ruling he previously made that would have prevented prosecutors from substituting the pathologist in a murder case.
Street ruled earlier this month that Aaron Story’s constitutional rights to confront his accuser would be violated if he allowed the substitution.
Story, 34, was indicted Sept. 11 in the June 2, 2018, shooting death of Christopher Connelly, whose body was discovered by a woman intending to walk her dogat the Lone Oak trailhead that Saturday morning.
The issue came up because Dr. Matrina Schmidt, who worked as a forensic pathologist at ETSU, performed the autopsy and prepared the report in the death of 38-year-old Connelly.
Since that time, Schmidt has since relocated to Hawaii, and informed the state it would require $40,000 to $50,000 in expenses for her to return to Jonesborough for the trial in September. Part of that cost would be to cover the quarantine period she would be required to complete once she returned to Hawaii.
Prosecutors had filed a motion in February asking Street to allow another forensic pathologist to testify about the autopsy from the report that Schmidt prepared in 2018.
Defense attorney Darcee Kubisiak argued in the earlier motion hearing that her client had the right to confront his accusers and cross-examine them, and that allowing the substitution would violate his due process.
At the time, Street agreed and ruled the state could not use another pathologist to testify about the autopsy.
Assistant District Attorney Justin Irick later found case law from 2016 that addressed the same issue and was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
In that ruling, the Supreme Court determined an autopsy report does not trigger the confrontation clause unless it is testimonial.
Testimonial evidence is evidence that specifically targets someone as the person who committed the crime.
An autopsy report does not do that. Itprovides detailed information about the deceased person’s body and injuries that caused the death. The pathologist performing the autopsy does conclude the cause and manner of death, in this case a gunshot to the head.
But the report does not give testament as to who caused the death.
The danger to the state is if the substitute pathologist added or took away from what’s in the report, it could be thrown out. “It can be read by another pathologist.”
Street said he would give “wide latitude” to the defense in cross-examining the substitute pathologist, and they have the right to try to get Schmidt to return to Tennessee.
“I was wrong, and I didn’t want it to affect this case,” Street said in reversing his earlier ruling.
Story remains in custody on a $100,000 bond. His trial is scheduled to start Sept. 13.