EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Oregon Murder Case Involves Livor Mortis & Bruton Doctrine Issues

According to an article from earlier this year,

When emergency responders arrived at Dorothy Wing’s home in Seaside Dec. 20, they found her 2-year-old daughter in full rigor mortis with bruises and injuries all over her body....

The girl was found laying on her side on a bed in her mother and Roden’s room but with livor mortis on her back, inconsistent with how she was found.

This is obviously a disturbing case, and it will lead to two separate trials next year as a result of the Bruton doctrine.

After the victim's mother -- Dorothy Wing -- and her live-in boyfriend -- Randy Lee Rodon -- were indicted on murder charges, they moved to sever their cases.

In their motions to sever, Roden’s defense lawyer, Conor Huseby, and Wing’s defense lawyer, John Gutbezahl, argue the couple made incriminating statements about the events and both implicate the other. 

I wonder whether any of these statements were consistent with the livor mortis evidence. As I've noted before, livor mortis is the process by which a victim's blood pools into the tissues of the dependent (lowest) portion of the body after death. After 8-12 hours or so, this lividity becomes fixed, meaning that the pattern of pooled blood won't be changed even if the body is placed in a different position. Therefore, the victim likely remained on her back for 8-12 hours after death before being placed on her side on the bed.*

We should eventually hear these statements because the court granted the motion to sever the trials. By doing so, the court avoided any problem under the Bruton doctrine. That doctrine provides that a statement by a defendant that incriminates a co-defendant is inadmissible at a joint jury trial unless the defendant testifies. This is because a defendant has the right to confront witnesses against him. In other words, if Rodon gave a confession that implicated Wing, his confession would not be admissible against Wing at a joint jury trial unless he testified because his confession would make him, in effect, a witness against Wing.

With the severing of the trials, however, there's no issue. Rodon's statements will be admissible against him at his trial, and Wing's statements will be admissible against her at her trial. There was another option on the table: revolving juries. In other words, at a combined trial, Rodon would have had a jury, and Wing would have had a separate jury. When evidence that was only admissible against Rodon was being presented, Wing's jury would have been excused (and vice versa). Such a process, however, can be clunky and creates the great risk of a mistrial.

Instead, Wing will be tried on March 8, 2016, and Rodon will be tried on April 5, 2016.


*Some believe that lividity can become fixed more quickly in young children.



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