By Zachary Zolmer
With the aid of more than 50 wall-projected exhibits, Monday’s afternoon session of Rohail Sarwar’s murder trial detailed the scene and extent of the victim’s fatal injuries.
The People’s first witness was Dr. Jason Tovar, who autopsied the victim on Aug. 22, 2018, the day after her death. A forensic pathologist for Sacramento County – which contracts with Yolo County to provide autopsy services – Tovar, using autopsy photographs, first distinguished between “stab” and “incised” wounds: stab wounds classify lacerations whose depth into the body exceeds its length on the skin’s surface, while incised or “cut” wounds reference the inverse – the surface length of the laceration exceeds its depth. Among injuries that included blunt-force bruising and combination stab-cut wounds, the victim showed approximately 12 stab wounds and six incised wounds, Tovar said.
Of six head lacerations, the largest occurred at the left temporal region, where the weapon penetrated skin, bone, and ultimately the brain’s temporal lobe, Tovar explained. A curvilinear stab-cut wound, darker tissue inside the gash, indicated life function, i.e. blood pressure, at the time of the injury. This caused associated hemorrhaging, also known as bleeding, which Tovar confirmed he found in each of the victim’s stab or incised wounds. The skull had fractured where the weapon penetrated bone, and bone fragments were found in the brain tissue.
Posterior to this injury, a smaller wound connected to it under the scalp, possibly evidencing one and the same weapon strike, Tovar said. On the approximate top-left side of the head, a stab wound went through the scalp and into the skull, where the weapon’s tip broke off and remained in the bone, X-rays confirmed. Along the left side of the head, above the ear, a stab wound penetrated the scalp. A cluster of three incised wounds, separated by small points of unharmed skin, ran in a line in front of the left ear, from under the hair down to the cheek. And where the back-left of the scalp joined the upper-neck, another stab wound went into soft tissue.
Four wounds marred the left side of the victim’s face: a stab wound under the eye, a superficial cut at the outside end of the eyebrow, an incised wound lateral to the cheek, and a stab-cut gash under the chin that left a flap or “filet-type injury,” Tovar said. No injuries were evident on the right side of the face.
On her chest, a stab wound went through rib cartilage, perforated the right lung, and pierced the casing around the heart, causing bleeding in the chest cavity. Tovar noted that the wound’s blunt top-end and sharp bottom-end were characteristic of marks done by a single-edged weapon. On the abdomen, a stab wound made multiple punctures within the loops of the small intestine and perforated the inferior vena cava, a crucial vein that returns deoxygenated middle- and lower-body blood back to the heart. Tovar estimated its breach released 800 ml of blood into the victim’s belly.
Another stab wound entered the left side of her back and penetrated the skin, soft tissue, shoulder blade, ribcage, and ultimately the left lung, which filled with roughly 100 ml of blood. An incised wound created a filet on her left shoulder, and two stab-cut wounds – connected through soft tissue, possibly evidencing a single weapon strike – were consistent with defensive wounds from raised arms.
The outside of her upper-right arm and elbow showed bruises whose dark discoloration, like that of darker wounds, required blood pressure, Tovar said. On the right hand, another defensive wound ran one-and-a-half inches across the base of the thumb, while the left hand’s index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers showed similar incised wounds.
In cross-examination, Tovar said there was no way to know how close together in time all of the wounds occurred. He couldn’t determine which occurred first and said those made before or after the weapon’s tip broke off would leave no distinguishing feature. In a redirect, he classified the victim’s back, abdomen, and temporal region wounds as “rapidly fatal, producing death without treatment.”
The People’s next witness, Woodland Police Detective Tamara Pelle, responded to the Cottonwood Massage on Aug. 22. Referencing a printed diagram of the building’s layout and wall-projected crime scene images, she outlined the evidence found in each room
Down the eastern wall of the center hallway, she noted a blood smear at chest height. The first of the east wing’s three massage rooms appeared undisturbed, but the double-doors to the second one showed a large blood smear, and the single-door of the third had blood along its bottom. On the western side, a storage room, a small shelved closet, and a break room were unremarkable, but in the washroom at the end, “just about everything in that room had some form of blood on it,” Pelle said.
The room, roughly 5’11” by 7’5”, comprised a shower stall on the right, cleaning supplies on the floor, a washing machine straight ahead, and a toilet and sink in a separate alcove on the left. In the shower, blood spattered the white wall, smeared the bottom of the shower curtain and showed a distinct, left handprint on the shower pan. The washing machine held towels in what smelled like a mixture of water and bleach, Pelle recalled, and blood striped the machine’s front edge and side. The toilet-sink alcove had blood on its wall and linoleum floor, and a small towel hung over the faucet.
Two shirt buttons — one near the linoleum, the other by the shower — sat on the washroom’s carpet. In addition to their “Izod” brand markings, Pelle noticed string on the button by the linoleum, which signaled it had been ripped off its shirt.
A puncture in the center of the door and a chip out of its edge marked damage from a weapon.
At the hallway’s end, next to a dryer, the victim lay on her side, roughly three feet from the washroom door.