During a shorter session Tuesday of Sierah Joughin’s ongoing murder trial in Fulton County Common Pleas Court, Lucas County deputy coroner Dr. Cynthia Beisser presented graphic testimony regarding Joughin’s last minutes alive and the condition of her body during the autopsy. Judge Jeffrey Robinson advised Joughin family members and friends present in the courtroom who would find Dr. Beisser’s testimony disturbing to excuse themselves.
As jury members viewed Joughin’s autopsy photos, Dr. Beisser described the bindings on the victim’s body and contusions present on her left leg. She also described a laceration on Joughin’s forehead, a broken upper left incisor in her mouth, and a hairline fracture inside the back of her skull.
Dr. Beisser said a a foreign yellow object had been placed in Joughin’s mouth attached to a binding around the back of her neck. She concluded the object asphyxiated Joughin, and that the process could have taken up to about 10 minutes. She said inserting the object in Joughin’s mouth could have broken the tooth.
When questioned by Fulton County Prosecutor Scott Haselman, Dr. Beisser acknowledged that the hairline fracture in Joughin’s skull could have been caused by a motorcycle helmet.
She described Joughin as 5-foot, 4 inches tall and weighing 122 pounds at the time of her death.
Under cross-examination by Mark Berling, the lead attorney for alleged Joughin abductor and murderer James Worley, Dr. Beisser said there is no way to know whether Joughin was conscious during her asphyxiation. She said no foreign objects were found in Joughin’s lungs or nasal cavities during the autopsy.
Dr. Beisser also said Joughin’s body showed no signs of torture, and that “the possibilities are almost infinite” regarding what could have caused the laceration on her face and the blunt trauma wound on the back of her head.
In other testimony, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification agent Daniel Davidson said two Starfire brand tires on Worley’s green 1995 Dodge Dakota pickup could have made tire impressions found at the site of Joughin’s alleged abduction on County Road 6.
Davidson said the tire impressions lifted at the County Road 6 site, one which came from a front driver’s side, show the same tread impressions and tire sizes as the Starfire tires on Worley’s Dodge pickup. However, two Kelly brand tires also on the green pickup cast different tread impressions and were excluded from the investigation.
There were also two Starfire tires on Worley’s red 2000 Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck, but they were a different size than the tire impressions found at the crime scene. They and two Liberator brand tires on the red pickup were also excluded.
Jessica Mendofik, a BCI forensic scientist in the agency’s latent print unit, told the court that latent fingerprints found on Worley’s motorcycle helmet were attributed to Worley and Jackson Vandenbusche, the son of Troy Vandenbusche. An area farmer, Vandenbusche spotted the helmet in the roadway on County Road 6 on the night Joughin disappeared and asked his son to retrieve it.
During a cross-examination by Worley attorney Merle Dech, Mendofik said no latent prints on the helmet matched Joughin’s, and a palm print found on the helmet was found to be inconclusive.
Haselman and Dech revisited past trial testimony with Major Matt Smithmyer, lead investigator of the case for the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office. Smithmyer told Haselman he grew up half a mile from the Worley residence, and at about age 10 visited the property to fish in a pond. He also said he is acquainted with Joughin’s mother and stepfather.
The revisited material included exterior surveillance video from Evergreen Local Schools that captured Worley riding vehicles the night of July 19, 2016, the day Joughin disappeared.
Smithmyer recounted visiting the crime scene on County Road 6 on July 19, 2016, and seeing Joughin’s blue bicycle, a pair of sunglasses on the roadway, and corn stalks disturbed at the site. He also recalled Troy Vandenbusche surrendering Worley’s motorcycle helmet the next day after hearing of Joughin’s disappearance.
But Smithmyer also noted that he did not see a second bicycle in an adjacent wheat field or in any surrounding location. When questioned after Joughin’s disappearance, Worley told investigators he saw two bicycles in the wheat field on that July 19, one blue, the other charcoal gray.
Smithmyer also said none of the residents at homes he canvassed in the area for information could remember seeing Worley push his disabled motorcycle down County Road 6 that night, as he claimed in conversations to investigators.
He said among items confiscated during the investigation was a handcuff key on a keychain among Worley’s property held at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio in Stryker. Smithmyer said he had never seen a handcuff key of an identical shape or design.
Among items found in a large tool chest in the shop area of a north barn on Worley’s property were two pairs of handcuffs with attached keys. Bins next to the tool chest held miscellaneous items that included rope.
Smithmyer said as part of the investigation he visited the same pornographic websites and watched the same videos as Worley. He said various videos portrayed women gagged and bound or hogtied, some with ball gags in their mouths. Smithmyer said some of the videos portrayed women being raped or strangled.
Dech emphasized during cross-examination that the websites clearly listed the women as models who were acting.
The trial resumes Wednesday, March 21, at 9:30 a.m. The defense team is expected to present its case Friday, March 23, with the jury receiving the case Monday, March 26.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.