Defense witness: Accidental shooting possible


Donald Schuessler

Donald Schuessler, a physical evidence consultant and defense witness, explains to the jury his drawings of evidence on the walls of Room 10 of Glacier Bear Lodge during Monday’s trial session. Public defender Eric Hedland (left) and prosecutor James Fayette (lower center) listen. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Prosecutors have rested their case in the Robert Kowalski homicide trial, but may reopen their presentation to the jury at a later date.

Kowalski is on trial in Juneau Superior Court for the July 1996 death of his girlfriend Sandra Perry at Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat.

Kowalski claims he shot Perry by accident. Prosecutors believe it was intentional, or he engaged in conduct with extreme indifference to the value of human life, that is, first or second-degree murder.

Blood tests

Prosecutors still want to show the jury test results of Kowalski’s blood that was sampled several hours after Perry’s death. The blood tests could show the presence or absence of alcohol or certain drugs.

The tests were done at the state Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage. But one crime lab analyst has retired and her whereabouts are uncertain. Another crime lab analyst, Stephen Palmer, also tested Kowalski’s blood, but Palmer now faces charges for allegedly stealing drugs used as control samples at the lab.

Bullet path

Physical evidence consultant and defense witness Donald Schuessler, of Oregon, told the court Monday it was impossible to determine the exact path of the shotgun slug, because there was no impact damage in the wall, and because of the unknown position and rotation of Perry’s head at the moment of the shooting.  Schuessler analyzed photos of the crime scene taken in Room 10 of the lodge.

“A bullet path described as traveling from front to back and upward could place Ms. Perry’s head in a position that supports Mr. Kowalski’s claim of falling on the bed, or attempting to get up from the bed when the shotgun discharged,” Schuessler said.  “Therefore, the possibility of Ms. Perry’s death being accidental can’t be eliminated.”

Schuessler also worked as a forensic analyst for the Eugene Police Department for 28 years.

Under cross-examination by the prosecution, Schuessler acknowledged that he did not completely reconstruct the scene or talk with Alaska investigators about their observations of the Yakutat homicide.

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