April 5, 2010

Murder Trial Begins for Former Cornell University Graduate Student

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Ten months after the death of Caroline Coffey, the trial of her husband began on April 1. Blazej Kot, a former Cornell Ph.D student in information sciences, is currently being charged with murdering his wife, who was a post-doctoral student in the vet school, in the early summer of last year. Monday marked the third day of testimony, as the prosecution continued reconstructing the events of the night through the testimonies of both on the scene investigators and laboratory pathologists.Kot stands accused of muder, arson and evidence tampering. After a five mile car chase on June 3 that concluded with Kot’s apparent attempted suicide, police officers discovered a significant fire in his apartment and no trace of his wife. The following day, Coffey’s body was discovered on the Black Diamond Trail in Cass Park. An autopsy later found that a fatal laceration to the neck was the cause of death.According to the prosecution, Kot murdered his wife, knowingly disposed of the body in the park and attempted to burn down his apartment to dispose of evidence. The defense countered that his actions were the result of an extreme emotional disturbance induced by stress.In Monday’s proceedings, the prosecution, headed by Assistant District Attorney Andrew McElwee, presented expert testimony from a number of forensic investigators related to the case.Dr. James Terzian, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy, described Coffey’s wounds. According to his testimony, her body showed signs of a struggle, to which she ultimately succumbed. He further confirmed that the wound on her neck, created by a long thin blade, was consistent with the suspected murder weapon, a utility knife found in a Ziploc bag in Kot’s car.DNA evidence presented by New York State Serologist Stacey Rack and Forensic DNA Analyst Urfan Mukthar explained that blood swabs taken from Kot’s sneakers matched Coffey’s DNA, while evidence from the apartment, including a can of flammable solvent, was consistent with Kot’s DNA as well.

Additional time was spent examining evidence of Kot’s alleged evidence tampering. Christopher Hamilton, fire inspector of the Ithaca Fire Department, described the nature of the damage as a highly smoldering fire that created rising billows of hot smoke rather than a roaring flame, which was indicative of a fire that was manufactured on purpose.Hamilton also stated that the area where the fire originated, which his investigation concluded was near a small bookshelf, had a strong petroleum scent that may have been caused by a propellant. In addition to this larger fire, there was an additional fire constructed in the fireplace that contained fabric remnants, buttons and a pair of glasses. According to Steve Andersen, a New York State Police senior investigator, these discoveries would be consistent with the burning of clothing.The prosecution continued reconstructing their version of the events following the alleged murder.Ann Williams, a nurse from the Intensive Care Unit at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayer, Pa. where Kot was treated, described his actions in the hospital, as he recovered from a self-inflicted wound to the neck. According to her testimony, his first questions upon awakening from anesthesia, were to inquire about the condition of his wife.The final witness of the day was Travis Marshall grad, one of Kot and Coffey’s friends, who described Kot as a mellow and agreeable person. He added that he saw Kot on on the day of the murder but that he did not seem unusually agitated or stressed.Throughout the proceedings, defense attorney Joe Jochs ’66 attempted to weave doubt into the validity of the police investigation into the incident and the prosecution’s case. Jochs asserted that the DNA results had been tainted, that the evidence had been mishandled as it was transferred from different places and that the crime scene had been dirtied by investigaon. Jochs also began to raise issues of emotional disturbance and mental imbalance at the time of the murder, questioning Williams about the possible impacts of surgery on mental states or cognitive functions.Testimony will continue Tuesday morning at 9 a.m at the Tompkins County Courthouse with the cross-examination of Travis Marshall.

Original Author: Evan Preminger