Day 5 of the John Oldson Murder trial. Oldson being led into the Howard County Courthouse.
Dr Steven A. Symes, associate professor of anthropology at Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA
The State put forth a powerful witness on day 5 of the murder trial of John Oldson at the Howard County Courthouse in St. Paul, NE. The expert witness,Dr. Steven A. Symes, best known for his expertise in interpreting trauma to bone and as a leading authority on saw and knife mark analysis, brings 30 years of experience to his position as associate professor of anthropology at Mercyhurst. (http://mai.mercyhurst.edu/personnel/steven-a-symes/)
As one of less than 90 forensic anthropologists in North America certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, and one of only two in Pennsylvania (Mercyhurst’s Dr. Dirkmaat, the other); Dr. Symes is a sought-after consultant in criminal cases. Note that he has been involved with hands-on forensic anthropology since 1979, when he became the graduate assistant of Dr. William M. Bass, founder of the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and opening the first known "Body Farm" outside of Knoxville TN in 1971. (http://science.howstuffworks.com/body-farm3.htm) His specialty in criminal dismemberment and mutilation has led him to consult on a number of serial homicides, notable among them Crown vs. Paul Bernardo (Symes 1998), a serial abduction/murder near Toronto. Further, he has provided analysis of cut marks in nearly 200 dismemberment and 400 knife wound cases. Back in November 2012, Valley County Sheriff Casey Hurlburt and Investigator Morrow from the State Patrol, flew Beard's remains out to Erie, PA., to be examined by Dr Symes. Throughout the remainder of the morning, Dr. Symes presented his findings concerning his two days of analysis of Catherine's remains. The court then recessed for lunch.
Deliberations continued Friday afternoon with Dr. Symes still testifying for the state. The jury, the entire courtroom and Defendant Oldson were focused on Dr. Symes and his explanations of his findings. Dr Syme continued his power point presentation of his findings on the remains of Catherine Beard. The Doctor did make a concessions his findings did slightly suffer from the facts the bones in the case are over 23 years old were exposed to the elements of the Nebraska prairie and also were exhumed a second time from a water and mud filled casket in Ord, NE in November of 2011. The Doctor. focused on perimortem and postmortem wounds or defects as he referred to them. His findings were conclusive that two blunt force traumas damaged two areas of the skull. One blow, to the top of the skull, and one, over the right eye. The Doctor also stated he found evidence of stab wounds to the vertebrae and ribs and also a sharp impact to the sacrum (In humans, the sacrum is a large, triangular bone at the base of the spine and at the upper and back part of the pelvic cavity). Dr. Symes concluded for the state by summing up Beard's manner of death as foul play and a violent death, not from a car/pedestrian accident. James Mowbray then cross examined the Dr. for the Defense. Mowbray asked the Dr. if he felt Catherine had been buried. Dr Symes responded that no, according to the bleaching of the majority of the bones recovered being sun-bleached and weathered by the environment (wind, rain, snow and dust). Mowbray also asked if it was possible that a 4wheel drive pickup going at a high rate of speed could have caused the blunt force trauma to Beard. To which the doctor replied it is possible. But Corey O'Brien, in his redirect, heard the Dr. testify that in terms of a car/pedestrian accident, there would be no sharp instrument trauma which was sustained perimortem to Catherine. The Dr. also said he never observed that kind of trauma in any car accident case he analyzed.
Sheriff Hurlburt finished out the short afternoon testimony by verifying how long it takes to drive from the then SomePlace Else tavern to the body recovery site six miles outside of Ord and how long it takes to walk from the tavern to Oldson's old house in Ord. Sheriff Hurlburt performed those investigations personally and discovered it takes approximately 9 minutes to drive to the site and the walk took him 14 minutes.
A slight correction needs to be amended to yesterday's report of the bones not in plastic bags in the exhumed coffin of Catherine Beard as stated on our website. Valley County Sheriff Casey Hurlburt confirmed during afternoon testimony that the bones were individually in plastic bags inside the coffin, but water penetrated the bags. Also, it was Roye Lindsay, a local anthropologist was the respondent with regards to predators possibly moving the remains at the bone recovery site.