The injuries that killed Linda Sobek last November were not the result of strangulation, an independent forensic pathologist testified Tuesday in the trial of the photographer accused of murdering the former Hermosa Beach model.
Instead, Dr. David M. Posey told a Torrance courtroom that Sobek, 27, most likely was asphyxiated after her neck and chest were compressed against an inert surface such as a car door.
The testimony of Posey, a former Army surgeon and onetime pathologist for the Los Angeles County coroner's office, came on the 11th day of trial for Charles Rathbun, 38, of Hollywood, who is accused of strangling Sobek during a photo shoot in the Angeles National Forest.
Rathbun, who could take the witness stand as early as today, initially told authorities that he accidentally killed Sobek by hitting her with a car when a driving stunt went awry. But in the weeks leading up to his trial, Rathbun's defense attorney Mark Werksman has said he would present evidence showing that Sobek's death was the result of a tragic accident that followed consensual sex.
Toward that end, Werksman Tuesday called on Posey to review Sobek's autopsy results, which authorities say prove she was sexually assaulted and strangled.
While agreeing with the coroner's office that Sobek died of asphyxiation, Posey said the absence of external injuries on her neck and chest convinced him "the findings for manual strangulation were just not there."
He theorized that Sobek's fatal injuries could have resulted from her neck and chest being compressed in a prone position in the back seat of a vehicle.
But outside the courtroom, prosecutor Steve Kay scoffed at Posey's testimony and said he will prove during cross-examination that the witness was unqualified to reach those conclusions. Kay also charged that Posey was asked to leave the Los Angeles County coroner's office--a charge angrily denied by Rathbun's attorney.
In addition, Kay took issue with earlier testimony by the defendant's older brother. Robert Rathbun said he went to the Angeles National Forest early this year and recovered--and later developed--five rolls of film taken of Sobek by his brother. The photographs, the defense has said, include shots showing her in provocative poses. But Kay said there was no way of identifying the most provocative poses because they show only a torso.
Meanwhile, Hermosa Beach police were continuing to investigate a bizarre wrinkle in the case. Last week, a juror was dismissed after police discovered he lied on his court questionnaire about his criminal record and association with law enforcement. The juror, who was not identified, was arrested in 1988 in a drug case and was briefly an informant for the Hermosa Beach Police Department, which first launched the Sobek investigation. But the juror's criminal record was destroyed by a clerk in the department who is now on leave and faces felony prosecution, authorities said.