Attorney Janet H. King has asked the Superior Court to appoint another expert, this time in the field of forensic pathology, to help her defend her client, Joseph A. Crisostomo, who is facing charges in the kidnapping and murder of bartender Emerita Romero.
As this developed, King filed on Friday more motions, including a request to change the trial venue due to media coverage and community sentiment. She argued that because of the bad publicity in the case, her client won’t get a fair and impartial trial on Saipan. She, however, did not indicate an alternate venue for the trial.
In her motion to appoint an expert, King asked the court to appoint as expert witness for the defense Dr. Joseph I. Cohen, a forensic pathologist and president of United Forensic Services based in California and New York.
Dr. Cohen, she said, agrees to a maximum pay of $4,800. She said she will apply for payment of additional fees, and, if necessary, transportation cost and lodging expenses if later required.
King pointed out that an expert in the field of forensic pathology is necessary to help the defense in order to fully evaluate the autopsy evidence and claims of the Commonwealth’s own witness.
She noted that the evidence in this case includes an autopsy performed by the government’s own forensic pathologist, Dr. Aurelio Espinola, who ruled that Romero’s death “resulted from asphyxia due to ligature strangulation, a homicide.”
In addition, King said, a rape test-kit was administered at the autopsy.
King expects Espinola to testify that Romero was beaten based on swollen eyes and pre-mortem hemorrhage of her eyes.
“In a first-degree murder prosecution, especially, in which autopsy and Dr. Espinola’s testimony will be significant factors in the presentation of the evidence at trial, without the requested expert assistance, the defendant’s defense would be gutted, resulting in prejudice,” she said.
The lawyer said the autopsy evidence is beyond her scope of training and that Dr. Cohen’s expert services are necessary to allow her to adequately represent Crisostomo at his trial.
In the motion for change of venue, King cited the enormous amount of publicity generated by the case, largely because murder rarely happens on Saipan.
“The media did not just report the facts. The media also gave opinions and implied the defendant’s guilt,” the lawyer said.
In particular, she said, the newspapers printed several statements by the Office of the Attorney General, specifically AG Joey San Nicolas himself and his chief prosecutor, pertaining to Crisostomo’s guilt in the case.
“The defendant would not be able to receive a fair and impartial trial because of the printing and dissemination of these opinions,” King said.
Earlier on Friday, King also asked the court to appoint an expert in forensic DNA analysis and another in cell phone forensics for Crisostomo’s defense.
The court in April 2013 approved King’s request to appoint two Guam lawyers as her co-counsel for Crisostomo.
Police arrested the 40-year-old Crisostomo on Feb. 22, 2013, for the killing of Romero, whose body was found at the former La Fiesta Mall in San Roque on Feb. 7, 2012.