The former Summit County medical examiner was on the verge of telling a jury at the Denny Ross retrial Wednesday he had a new theory about how Hannah Hill was strangled to death in May 1999.
The jury, however, never heard this new theory in open court.
Marvin S. Platt, the forensic pathologist who performed the original autopsy, ruled 13 years ago that Hill died of “manual compression of the neck,” or strangulation, most likely when her assailant pulled on the necklace she was wearing on the night she disappeared.
But shortly after noon Wednesday, during the sixth day of testimony in the retrial, Platt told the jury he had never forgotten the case and, years later, saw comparisons to another strangulation case.
“I had an opportunity to have another case, in another jurisdiction, which brought this case to light,” he told the panel.
Before Platt could go on, however, defense attorney Larry Whitney asked to approach the bench. Both sides conferred for several minutes, and Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter decided it was time for the lunch break.
With the jury out of the courtroom, Platt went on to explain his latest theory about how Hill was strangled.
In the 12-year interval since the first Ross trial in 2000, Platt said, he came to the conclusion that manual compression of Hill’s neck came “by virtue of what we call a lateral neck hold.”
Platt then stood up from the witness stand and demonstrated. He said Hill was strangled “by an arm, and the lateral neck hold is one in which the arm is brought around the neck so that it forms a V.”
Such a move has been described in other major criminal cases as an “arm-bar hold” or, in medical terms, Platt said, a “sleeper hold.”
It was the first time any forensic pathologist offered this theory about the Hill case under sworn testimony in trial proceedings.
Whitney told Hunter he felt the testimony was grounds for a mistrial, because an independent forensic pathologist for the defense, Dr. Jonathan L. Arden of McLean, Va., has never had a chance to evaluate the opinion for eventual defense testimony at the retrial.
But then, after Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Anna Faraglia argued that the new theory did not change the essence of Platt’s original findings that strangulation occurred by manual compression of the neck, Hunter shot down the potential mistrial argument.
Yet another twist followed when the jury returned to open court at 1:20 p.m. for the continuation of the retrial: Platt’s new theory never came up.
And there was no explanation.
Under a gag order Hunter issued months ago, all parties directly involved in the case are prohibited from commenting outside of court.
Ross’ first trial ended abruptly during deliberations after the jury had voted unanimously to acquit him of murder, aggravated murder and rape. The cause of the mistrial was alleged misconduct by one juror.
That sent the case into years of state and federal appeals, primarily over the issue of double jeopardy.
Ross is serving a 25-year prison sentence for the 2004 attempted murder and rape of another Akron woman while he was free on bond during the ongoing Hill appeals.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.