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Expert Revises Testimony on Fatal Shooting of O'Sullivan : Courts: Witness concedes the Westlake nurse might not have been on her knees when she was killed.

November 17, 1994|DWAYNE BRAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Under intense cross-examination, a ballistics expert testifying against murder defendant Mark Scott Thornton conceded Wednesday that Westlake nurse Kellie O'Sullivan might not have been on her knees when she was fatally shot.

A day earlier, Paul Dougherty had said that the nurse was on her knees and unable to put up a struggle when she was shot under leafy tree limbs in the Santa Monica Mountains.

He acknowledged in Ventura County Superior Court on Wednesday, however, that his interpretation of the slaying is based on speculation--although he said he still believes it is accurate.

"I believe she was shot right where she dropped," testified Dougherty, who at times appeared irritated under questioning from Deputy Public Defender Howard J. Asher.

Dougherty also told the attorney for the 20-year-old defendant that his re-enactment of the crime, aided by the use of a mannequin dressed in O'Sullivan's soiled nurse's uniform, will probably have to suffice unless a witness to the killing surfaces.

The acrimonious exchange came during an unusually bizarre day in Thornton's 3-week-old murder trial.

At 10:09 a.m., in the middle of Dougherty's testimony, the lights in the courtroom went out for about 15 seconds.

Ordinarily, a backup generator would kick in within a second or two of a power outage, a court security official said. But that did not happen Wednesday, causing a brief scramble for security personnel guarding Thornton.

As everyone sat silent in darkness for about five seconds, bailiff John Christie grabbed a flashlight and shone it on the unshackled and apparently unfazed defendant, who sat calmly at the table. Another guard raced over to Thornton and stood behind him until power was restored.

Thornton never moved, except to swivel in his chair and look around the courtroom.

After the blackout, Superior Court Judge Charles McGrath resumed the trial without a recess. The outage affected the entire Hall of Justice and parts of east Ventura, officials said.

To counter any damage done to their theory of murder on cross-examination, prosecutors used a mannequin dressed in O'Sullivan's soiled nurse's uniform to reconstruct the shooting. Dougherty had employed the mannequin during his testimony on Tuesday.

Dougherty also reiterated that he based his re-enactment on the position of the nurse's body when it was found and on the fact that the low-hanging foliage would not have given her much room to stand.

Also on Wednesday, prosecutors called one of Thornton's former girlfriends to the stand. Erika Schroeder, now a 19-year-old college student, testified that she dated the defendant for more than a year before breaking off their relationship in the fall of 1992.

*

She testified that Thornton had threatened to kill her and anyone she dated. After their final date to homecoming at Thousand Oaks High School in October, 1992, Thornton drove her through the Santa Monica Mountains and then to Malibu Beach, where Schroeder said he threatened to kill her and then himself.

The next day, he showed up at her Glendale home and kidnaped her for about an hour. "He asked how it would feel if he took me to a place where no one would ever find me," she testified. He also hit her in the face, she said.

She said she had started dating him when the two of them attended Hoover High School in Glendale because she considered him cute.

"In the beginning I was in love with him," Schroeder said. "But towards the end, I was only with him because I was scared to break up with him."

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