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Trial begins in fatal W.Va. stabbing

July 08, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - The person who stabbed and strangled Robyn Renee Richardson in the summer of 2001 probably was in front of her during most of the attack, but determining his height or whether he was right- or left-handed could not be easily done, according to testimony from an expert forensic pathologist.

Former state medical examiner Dr. James Frost was one of six witnesses who testified Wednesday, the first day of Miguel Delgado's first-degree murder trial.

Delgado, 36, of Martinsburg, is charged with killing Richardson, 29, on the night of Friday, June 15, 2001, or early Saturday, June 16, 2001. A neighbor found her body in a grassy area outside of her Moler Avenue apartment building.

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A blue shirt was pulled over part of Richardson's head, covering her eyes. A black-handled steak knife, with the blade bent at a 90-degree angle, was found entangled in her hair.

A photograph of Richardson's bloody upper body was projected onto the wall in Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes' courtroom. One juror, a young woman, looked at the photo and then looked toward Richardson's family members, who were sitting in the courtroom's front row.

During his testimony, Frost described each of the 23 stab wounds on Richardson's body, along with each cut, scratch and bruise. Several wounds on her arm and possibly those on her leg could have been defensive wounds, said Frost, who performed the autopsy.

One of Delgado's two attorneys, Michael Santa Barbara, asked whether it was likely the assailant cut himself during the attack. Photographs taken of Delgado's hands a few days after the killing show no cuts or bruises.

Frost said he has not had any experience with hand wounds caused to an assailant.

Frost said four of the stab wounds were severe enough to have caused death, including a wound to Richardson's neck that cut her jugular vein. Two others pierced her lungs and the fourth went into her heart, Frost testified.

Although Frost testified that the deepest stab wound was 13/4 inches, his autopsy report indicates the deepest - the wound that penetrated Richardson's heart - was 23/8 inches.

Frost said he did not record the depth of one of the wounds that penetrated Richardson's left lung.

Half of the wounds were less than an inch deep, the report states.

In her opening statement, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely told jurors that the case has a lot of circumstantial evidence.

Two parts, however, are especially important, she said. The first is a statement given by Delgado's former girlfriend, Tracy Cardona, who said Delgado confessed to her that he killed a woman. Cardona is expected to testify.

Secondly is the fact that Richardson's blood was found inside of Delgado's Chevrolet Blazer, she said.

"If that vehicle was not at the crime scene, how did Robyn Renee Richardson's blood get inside?" Games-Neely said.

During his opening statement, Delgado's other attorney, Robert Barrat, pointed out that no forensic evidence links Delgado directly to the crime, that police looked into several suspects before arresting Delgado and that Delgado never confessed.

Offering contradictory evidence was Richardson's son, Corey, who is 14 years old and was 11 at the time his mother was killed.

Corey said that on June 14 or June 15, 2001, his father picked him up at his mother's apartment. He said he noticed a "mint green" truck with an American flag in it in the parking lot.

Delgado's SUV was white and gray and had a small Puerto Rican flag hanging from the mirror.

Corey also said that he had never seen Delgado before, but police records indicate he previously told investigators that he, his mother and Delgado had gone out to dinner together.

On cross-examination, Santa Barbara asked him whether he was sure of the truck's color and whether he remembered previously telling police about the meal.

Adam Pennoyer, who testified that he came with Corey's father to pick up the boy that day, did describe the Blazer as gray and white with a Puerto Rican flag in it.

Although Pennoyer said he saw a man sitting in the driver's seat, he was not asked whether Delgado was the man.

When questioning Martinsburg Police Department Sgt. Kevin Miller and Lt. Tim Catlett, Santa Barbara asked them whether the crime scene - the spot where Richardson's body was found - had been contaminated. Santa Barbara pointed out police records that show a gob of used chewing tobacco was found just inside the yellow crime scene tape perimeter. Police later learned the tobacco had been spit there by a fellow officer.

Both officers said the tobacco, in their opinion, did not mean the scene was contaminated.

Miller was asked about one of the first suspects in the case, who at the time was serving in the U.S. Army and stationed at a base in northern Virginia.

The man had had a sexual relationship with Richardson. After an argument with Richardson the man was arrested for creating a Web site about Richardson that contained pornographic statements, Miller testified.

The man was cleared as a suspect when a commanding officer said he was at a ball Friday night and worked extra duty from midnight to 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday of that week, Miller said.

Santa Barbara asked Miller whether police confirmed the reported alibi on their own or whether they took the Army officer's word for it. Miller said the latter was the case.

Testimony is expected to resume this morning. A jury of seven men and five women are hearing the case.

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