Another chapter in the story of Joel Lovelien's murder ended today as the prosecution and defense rested their cases, bringing an early close to testimony in the trial of Travis Stay, which was scheduled to last until Friday.
Attorneys are to meet Wednesday morning to discuss the jury's final instructions. Closing arguments, then jury deliberations are to follow.
Judge Joel Medd told jurors that if they haven't made a decision by bedtime, they would be allowed to go home and resume in the morning.
"My experience with jurors is that once they begin their deliberations, they'd just as soon finish it up," Medd told the courtroom.
Terry Laber, a blood-spatter expert called by the prosecution, brought into focus the gory details of the assault that killed Lovelien the night of Oct. 27, 2007.
Laber, employed by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said he concluded that the stains of Lovelien's blood found on the yellow-hooded sweatshirt and brown cargo pants worn by Stay that night are consistent with impacts delivered as the defendant stood straddling a prostrate Lovelien.
But Laber said he couldn't rule out the defense's version of events that has Lovelien coughing or somehow expelling blood from his mouth onto Stay's clothing.
"I didn't find convincing evidence that there was an expiration, but I still couldn't rule out that there could have been some," he said.
Laber acknowledged that such a possibility was overlooked in the first report he did for prosecutors. But after reading the findings of the defense's blood-spatter expert, he said, he revised his conclusions to include the possibility that Lovelien, who died choking on his own blood, could have expirated blood onto Stay.
Using crime scene photos, Laber evaluated blood evidence found in the parking lot of the Broken Drum where Lovelien was found unresponsive. Police documented a 14-inch-wide pool of the victim's blood on the surface of the lot that had blood spatter radiating from it. Some droplets reached a sedan parked about 11½ feet away from the pool where Lovelien's head lay.
"Perhaps the head of the victim was smacked into this blood pool," he said. "You can't rule out that somebody could have stomped in the blood or something like that."
Defense attorney Joe Friedberg pointed out that no dirt or grit was found in the wound on the back of Lovelien's head, no hair found in the blood pool, and the victim didn't have a head injury that would have suggested stomping.
Friedberg reminded jurors that none of the victim's blood was found on Stay's shoes or below the knee of his pants. The defense also re-emphasized the fact that no blood from Stay, who was cut below the eye earlier in the night, was found on Lovelien's clothing.
Laber testified that, guessing by the blood stains on Lovelien's clothes, the victim wasn't standing for very long after he started bleeding and that he was down for most of the assault.
The defense first called Dr. Steven Tredal, an emergency medicine physician who examined Stay, 24, a week after Lovelien, 38, was assaulted.
"I found an individual who had very minimal injury to his hands other than ... some superficial abrasions," Tredal said, adding that Stay had no swelling, discoloration, bruising or stiffness in his hands during the examination.
Stay's hand injuries did not jibe with those that usually result from punching, Tredal testified. He added that, in his opinion, Stay's injuries did not come from beating Lovelien.
On his right hand, Stay had a scrape between the knuckles of his index and middle fingers as well as abrasions on the first joints of those fingers. He had another scrape on his lower left palm. The defense has argued that the right-handed Stay scraped his hands on the surface of the bar's parking lot. Tredal said he discovered particles of grit in Stay's cuts. Asked by prosecutor Nancy Yon if there were any photos or record of the grit found, the doctor said he had none.
William O'Keefe, a private investigator, also testified that he attempted to interview other people who rode the party bus that brought Stay to the Broken Drum, in particular five men the defense has accused of killing Lovelien before the bus left without Stay. Four of the men have denied under oath any involvement in the assault. The fifth was not called to testify.
O'Keefe said Chris Hoffman, a bouncer at the Broken Drum, told him he saw the party bus when he went outside with Heather Eastling, Lovelien's fiancé, to look for him.
Yon said the statement Hoffman gave O'Keefe was inconsistent with the one he gave police right after the assault. She also reminded jurors that Eastling never testified that she saw the bus when she went outside to look for her fiancé.
Surveillance tapes show Hoffman and Eastling leaving the bar to look for Lovelien at about 11:50 p.m. The police's timeline has the party bus leaving about 11:44 p.m. If the bus still was there at about 11:50 p.m., like the defense suggests, it would add about six minutes to the window in which other party bus riders could have attacked Lovelien.
Stay's attorneys had been expected to call a pathologist and their own blood-spatter expert, but they did not, instead resting their case.
Ingersoll reports on crime and courts. Reach him at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.