San Diego State University student Cara Evelyn Knott, whose battered body was tossed 75 feet over a highway bridge, died of strangulation but was not sexually assaulted, according to an autopsy report.
California Highway Patrol Officer Craig Alan Peyer has been charged with the slaying.
Knott was killed Dec. 27. Her body was discovered the following morning in a dry creek bed near an isolated Interstate 15 off-ramp. San Diego County Coroner David Stark said Thursday that the 20-year-old woman was probably strangled with a cord, rope or wire pulled tightly around her neck.
The nine-page autopsy report mentioned bluish-red bruises almost half an inch wide around the young woman's neck. According to the report, Knott was killed on the bridge near Interstate 15 and Mercy Road, before her body was thrown into the dry creek below. Her body suffered additional internal injuries as a result of the fall.
Pathologists determined that Knott was killed before she was dropped from the bridge because they did not find any evidence of hemorrhaging around the bones and internal organs that were injured in the fall, Stark said.
He added that pathologists found no traces of alcohol or drugs in Knott's body, which was fully clothed. But Deputy Coroner Robert Grubb said that coroner's investigators are still awaiting the results of a toxicology test. Other tests showed no evidence that Knott was sexually assaulted, Stark said.
Peyer, 36 and a 13-year CHP veteran, was arrested Jan. 15 by San Diego homicide investigators on suspicion of killing Knott. He is being held in County Jail on $1 million bail, awaiting a Feb. 24 preliminary hearing.
On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Richard Huffman set another bail review hearing for Peyer, who pleaded not guilty on Jan. 21 and will return to court on Feb. 17, a week before the preliminary hearing. Defense attorney Robert Grimes said he asked for the new hearing to argue that the $1 million bail is excessive.
Peyer was held on $500,000 bail when he was arrested. Municipal Judge Herbert J. Exarhos doubled the bail Jan. 27 at the request of prosecutors. Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph van Orshoven asked for the increase after presenting new evidence against Peyer during a hearing in chambers with Exarhos and Grimes.
All evidence in the case, including a 50-page declaration for Peyer's arrest, was ordered sealed by Exarhos.
The autopsy report did not address one area in the investigation that may prove to be crucial to the prosecution's case.
According to some reports, homicide investigators noticed scratch marks on Peyer's face during a television broadcast the day after Knott's body was found. During the broadcast, Peyer was advising viewers, particularly women, not to accept rides from strangers if their cars break down on the freeway.
Grubb said that county pathologists do not scrape a victim's nails for evidence, but leave that to forensic specialists from the police lab. The autopsy report says that Knott's body was brought to the coroner's examining room with plastic bags wrapped around her hands and feet to preserve evidence.
Specialists from the police lab lifted pieces of evidence from underneath Knott's fingernails, Grubb said. At a Jan. 15 press conference held to announce Peyer's arrest, Chief Bill Kolender praised police lab specialists for helping to compile evidence against Peyer.
The autopsy report included evidence that Knott, who was a junior at SDSU, was returning to her El Cajon home after a casual visit to her boyfriend's house in Escondido. Knott, whose hair was tied in a pony tail, was dressed in sweat pants and a pullover sweat shirt.
Samuel Knott said that the family became concerned when Cara did not arrive home, after alerting them that she was en route. When she failed to arrive, family members launched an all-night search along freeways between Escondido and El Cajon. Her brother-in-law found Knott's 1968 Volkswagen on the bridge, about 500 feet from her body.
Pathologists found numerous injuries on Knott's face. However, Stark said that the autopsy could not determine whether she was beaten before she died.