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Woman's injuries outlined by witness

January 22, 2002

Woman's injuries outlined by witness



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


Using a photograph of her skull to describe Vatressa Miller's injuries, an anthropologist testified in U.S. District Court Monday that Miller suffered a "heavy crushing force" to her head during a fatal beating in a Martinsburg, W.Va., subdivision two years ago.

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Douglas Owsley, an anthropologist for the Smithsonian Institution of Natural History, said he was asked by police to help them determine what happened to Miller.

Andrew Jackson, 728 Winchester Ave., Martinsburg, and Keyston J. West, 908 Wendover Road, Apt. D, Charlotte, N.C., are on trial for the death of Miller.

If Jackson, 23, and West, 24, are found guilty of charges of killing Miller as part of a continuing criminal enterprise, they could face life in prison.

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Casey Holt, 27, was a co-defendant until Jan. 11, when she pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to the killing of Miller and not disclosing knowledge of the killing. She faces up to 15 years in prison.

Owsley told jurors he took Miller's body to the Smithsonian, cleaned her skeleton and reconstructed her bones so he could determine how she died.

Using an overhead projector, Owsley showed jurors a photograph of Miller's skull and explained the blows she suffered to the head.

Owsley showed jurors a large fracture on the left side of Miller's skull, two broken nasal bones, a fracture to the jaw and fractured areas around one of the eyes.

Owsley said the injury on the left side of the skull could have been caused by someone hitting her from behind. Owsley based his assumption on the fact that the fragile cheek bones in the front of the skull were not affected.

In one examination to the skull, Owsley said he counted eight different broken pieces.

"There's a lot of force behind that," Owsley said.

Six teeth were fractured and some teeth were knocked out when Miller suffered the jaw fracture, said Owsley.

Owsley said a log found at the scene could have been used to cause the fracture to the left side of the head. A club that was introduced into evidence Monday could have been used to cause the jaw fracture, Owsley said.

Vernell Newell, in testimony Friday, said Holt struck Miller with an ax handle she pulled from her pants. Holt, however, testified that she did not hit Miller with an ax handle and did not even have one.

West hit Miller with a medium-sized log and Jackson punched and kicked Miller, Newell testified.

Newell, 31, of Martinsburg, pleaded guilty on March 14, 2000, to one count of distributing crack cocaine for Jackson and West. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Owsley pointed out marks on two of Miller's ribs and a wound on one of her hands. The marks on the ribs could have been caused by a blow to the chest and the hand wound may have occurred while Miller was trying to defend herself, Owsley said.

Jurors saw photographs of the victim's decomposed body when it was found in the Greystone on the Opequon subdivision off W.Va. 45 west of Martinsburg.

One of the photographs, which was also projected onto a screen, showed Miller's head.

Sgt. Sam Harmon of the Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crime Task Force showed several close-up photographs, including a photo of her hand with a ring still on one of the fingers.

He showed a photograph of a pair of shorts near the body, a skirt nearby, a soiled shirt hanging in a tree, a photograph of a wooden handle in a wooded area and a log with what appeared to be hair on it.

Attorneys for West and Jackson in their opening statements said there was no physical evidence to tie their clients to Miller's death. Jeff Harris, an attorney for Jackson, accused Holt of killing Miller in a battle for West's affection. Holt denied that was the case.

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