A former Travis County medical examiner contradicted a prosecutor in Crispin Harmel’s capital murder trial, testifying Wednesday that evidence doesn’t show Jessika Kalaher had been sexually assaulted or had brain damage after she was strangled in Cedar Park in 2009.
In her opening statements Tuesday, prosecutor Nancy Nemer said Harmel raped and strangled Kalaher, causing her severe brain damage before she died hours later in her car of heatstroke.
Harmel, 38, is charged with capital murder in connection with the death of 27-year-old Kalaher on Sept. 7, 2009. He is on trial for the second time after the first one ended on a mistrial when prosecutors were accused of withholding evidence.
On Wednesday, Nemer asked Dr. David Dolinak, who conducted Kalaher’s autopsy, if it was possible for no injuries to be evident after a person was sexually assaulted. Dolinak said it was. He also said a person has to live for 12 to 18 hours after being deprived of oxygen for the effects of brain damage to appear, Dolinak said.
He also said that he did believe Kalaher had brain damage.
Kalaher had a mark on the front of her neck that showed she was strangled with something, such as a cloth-like material, that left an irregular border, Dolinak said. He said she also had several bruises that he described as defensive wounds on one of her hands, on the side of her left upper arm, on the inside of her left elbow and on one of her forearms.
Dolinak said that Kalaher did not die of delayed strangulation — a medical phenomenon that former Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty in 2013 had said tied Harmel to Kalaher’s death. Delayed strangulation happens after a person suffocates hours after being strangled. Dolinak said Kalaher did not have a narrowed airway, which is one of the signs of delayed strangulation.
He also said it was not possible to determine the time Kalaher was injured or when she died.
The second day of Harmel’s trial also included a tape of a three-hour police interview with Harmel, five days after Kalaher died. Harmel said on the tape he met Kalaher on a sex website, met up with her at a Cedar Park Walmart, drove her Kia Spectra to an ATM to withdraw $20 with her debit card and then drove to a park where they had consensual sex. Harmel said she then drove him back and dropped him off near the store.
After Kalaher dropped him off, Harmel said, she flashed her headlights at him and drove away.
Harmel also said Kalaher gave him her debit card to help him pay for gas. When he tried to return the debit card to her the next day at an H-E-B grocery store where she worked, he couldn’t find her car, Harmel said.
“I felt weird because I couldn’t find her,” he said on the tape.
Harmel said during the police interview that Kalaher was a paying member of the sex website but they had never exchanged pictures or phone numbers before they met.
Cedar Park police Detective Larry Bond, who conducted the police interview played in court, said Wednesday investigators never found any evidence that Kalaher paid to be a member of a sex website.
Bond also said a Walmart videotape showed Kalaher’s car never moved after it returned to a strip center near the store and never flashed its headlights.
Kalaher never worked at the H-E-B where Harmel said he went to return her debit card, Bond said. The detective said Harmel told him he threw away Kalaher’s credit card after hearing she had died because “he was getting more and more freaked out about the whole situation.”
Harmel said on the tape that “I was just with this girl and she’s dead … it’s strange for it to happen.”