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Expert says evidence shows no sign doctor killed his wife

Thursday, August 14, 2003

By Virginia Kopas Joe, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Noted forensic scientist Henry Lee told a Westmoreland County jury yesterday that fingerprints on a dry cleaning bag police say was used to kill Elaine Long were made by Karl Long carrying his dry cleaning, not suffocating his wife.

Forensic scientist Henry Lee and Karl Long, right, prepare yesterday to enter the courtroom in the Westmoreland County Courthouse, where Long is on trial for the 1999 murder of his wife, Elaine Long. Lee testified that fingerprints on a dry cleaning bag found near Elaine Long's body "show no force, no stress, no pressure." Prosecutors have suggested that the bag could have been used to suffocate her. (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

Lee said Elaine Long's death was "a tragedy, but not a homicide."

"It could have been an accidental death; there was no intent, no staging at the scene," Lee said, summarizing a day of excruciatingly detailed testimony.

Lee, the star witness in the defense of the Ligonier podiatrist accused of killing his wife nearly four years ago, shook the district attorney's case that Karl Long killed her because he wanted out of a troubled marriage.

All along the defense has said Karl Long acted in self-defense and that Elaine Long's death on Oct. 3, 1999, was the tragic end to a series of arguments, most of which she started.

The defense has said she was feeling the rejection of an affair and, perhaps, the effects of pain medicine she was taking for a back injury.

Lee's testimony supported defense claims that the portly, 240-pound, 5-foot-10-inch-tall Karl Long fell on his petite, 5-foot, 110-pound wife and passed out during a violent argument. Long received a 3-inch stab wound in his upper right chest from a 10-inch kitchen knife during that struggle, the defense claims.

The seriousness of that wound, for which Long spent one night in a Johnstown hospital, has been debated during the long trial.

Lee, 67, chief emeritus of the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory, became a household name in 1995, when he testified for the defense in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. Now he is part of the defense team for another high-profile case, that of Scott Peterson, who is accused of killing his pregnant wife, Laci.

Lee's testimony came on day eight of Long's first-degree murder trial. If found guilty, Long faces life in prison.

Lee said his investigation did not find a major struggle in the bedroom of the couple's house at 301 E. Main St., Ligonier Borough.

"Whatever happened there happened fast," Lee said. Eight layers of folded clothes, disturbed elsewhere in the room, prove that, he testified.

Lee said fingerprints showed that Karl Long's left little finger and ring finger and the area of his left palm between the thumb and index finger were on the 66-inch-by-24-inch plastic dry cleaning bag police found near Elaine Long's head.

"These prints show no force, no stress, no pressure," Lee said. He suggested that blood from a struggle between the two caused plastic bags already on the bed to stick to her face, accidentally killing her.

His testimony rebuts earlier testimony by state police crime scene investigators who said that Long's smudged fingerprints on the bags prove that he applied pressure on them and suffocated his wife. The couple had been married nearly 18 years, and Karl Long, to his wife's distress, had applied for a divorce in late September 1999. The couple had two young children, then 9 and 5, who were elsewhere in the house at the time of the death.

After Lee's dramatic testimony, Karl Long broke his usual impassive stare and smiled at the forensic scientist. Lee was hired by the defense team of Caroline Roberto and William McCabe in 2000. He was paid $10,000 for this investigation, money he told the court will go to a scholarship fund.

A second forensic scientist, Dr. Karl Williams, who did a second autopsy on Elaine Long, said the woman suffered from syncopy, or fainting spells, and this could have contributed to her death during a struggle.

Williams' testimony is in direct opposition to the autopsy findings of Dr. Cyril H. Wecht who performed the autopsy on Elaine Long and testified last week that she appeared to have been deliberately suffocated.

Prosecutor John Peck, who contends that Long suffocated his wife by holding her head down on the bed and stuffing a sheet in her mouth, or by covering her head with the plastic bag, pointed out that despite his title, Lee is not a medical doctor and has never done an autopsy.

Defense testimony will continue at 9 a.m. today.


Virginia Kopas Joe can be reached at vkjoe@post-gazette.com or 724-837-1725.

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