Humboldt Justice With John Chiv: Brutal Deaths of the Two Victims Described in Warren Trial
John Chiv covers the local legal system for his blog. He shares his observations on some of the more high profile trials with us in our Humboldt Justice guest column.
Early one morning in October of 2012, a Kia Spectra struck three women joggers and dog on Myrtle Avenue before fleeing. One woman, later identified as Suzanne Seemann, and a dog were killed. Two women were seriously injured. Humboldt County was horrified. Law enforcement following the ownership trail of the Kia to Hoopa soon discovered another woman, Dorothy Ulrich, dead.
A suspect, Jason Warren, was arrested. His trial is being followed by John Chiv who describes yesterday’s court proceedings below:
…Hank Seemann, husband of Suzanne Seemann, and other Seemann family members as well as Dorothy Ulrich’s mother and Terri Vroman Little, one of the two surviving joggers struck in 2012, left the courtroom as a forensic pathologist, Dr. Ikechi Ogan, testified this morning in detail about the autopsies and injuries suffered by Seemann and Ulrich.
Some jury members watched as Warren showed no reaction while Dr. Ogan testified and bloody, brutal, graphic photos flashed on the computer screen. It was a difficult morning to be in the courtroom to cover testimony today.
Dr. Ogan is a private pathologist that contracts with different counties. He has extensive experience and has performed hundreds of autopsies, including training others. Both autopsies were done at the Sonoma County morgue in Santa Rosa.
Starting with visual injuries and proceeding to internal injuries, Dr. Ogan said that he noted “blunt force injuries” on Seemann. He observed “multiple injuries” on the exterior of her body, saw “contusions, lacerations and bruises located on head, torso and extremities.”
He noted a “three by three inch abrasion/contusion” on Seeman’s forehead. “A scrape imposed on a bruise.” Ogan said this injury “is consistent with head impacting a rough surface and moving forward.” As Ogan testified, a photo of Seemann on a stretcher with blood underneath her was on the screen.
Visually, Ogan noted that in Seemann’s mouth, there was “a bruise and torn frenulum”. It “was bruised and lacerated.” He also noted a three inches wide laceration to her head. The jury saw the graphic photo of this injury to her mouth and frenulum. Ogan said this also indicated that she fell on her face moving forward.
Moving to Seemann’s torso, Ogan noted that her “left shoulder joint was dislocated with the bone popped out of the socket. Lots of scrapes abrasions on upper extremities, both thighs and knees. Injury on her back thigh.” A photo of the deep, bloody gash was shown. Ogan said that this “laceration was four inches by one inch. The contusion was 11 inches by two inches and the distance from the sole of her feet to this would was 19 inches. It showed where the bumper made impact with the victim.”
There were “pock marks on the back right of her elbow; ruptures in the skin with embedded gravel.”
Ogan then described internal injuries. He started from the head. “I took the scalp of the back of the head where a laceration was imposed on a contusion. Other contusions covered other hematomas on areas of the skull. There were multiple radiating fractures of the skull.”
Ogan opened the skull and “saw internal cranial bleeding which shouldn’t be there. There was bleeding into the brain itself.” When he cut into the brain layer to layer, Ogan found blood in the brain and in the brain stem. “All this is abnormal.”
“Basal skull fractures are not survivable,” said Ogan. “You cannot operate on them. They are always a fatal injury.”
On Seemann’s torso, he found 19 different fractures. “Fractures of the clavicle (breast bone), rib fractures on both sides, anterior and posterior.” Two pelvic fractures. “Both lungs were punctured and collapsed. This is consistent with being hit by a car from behind and falling forward.”
Seemann’s cause of death was skull fractures, brain injuries, intercranial injuries due to pedestrian being hit by a vehicle.
Describing Ulrich’s autopsy, Ogan said, “this is more complex. Different patterns of injuries.”
Ogan said on visual inspection, he saw “evidence of force sharp injury, stab wounds. Blunt force injuries, abrasions, contusions, bruises. Evidence of chopping injury with a heavy implement.”
When he looked at the back of Ulrich’s head, he saw the “circumference of a laceration, also fractures of the skull. This would not be caused by a hand knife, something with more weight that would cut through the skull. There were number of lacerations on the scalp, multiple. At least nine different lacerations.” Ogan said these were all caused by nine different blows. One such injury on the back of the head was also accompanied by a fracture. He measured the lacerations and they ranged from two to six inches.
On Ulrich’s torso, there was “a total of six incised, stab wounds, in addition to other sharp force injuries on hands which were defensive injuries.” These defensive injuries he said were cuts on her forearms and hands.
“There were two stab wounds on the right side of the chest, above the right breast. Four wounds across the back. One inch with the depth being three and 4 inches.”
There was blunt force trauma to the mid-forehead, a two inch laceration. On the right temple, there was a two by two inch laceration. On the back of Ulrich’s head was a “major laceration, five inches.”
He said there were multiple lacerations, “maybe more than nine.” Soft tissue damage on face and scalp.
On her body, “multiple abrasions and contusions on torso. Worse on the arms then upper extremities as if the person was trying to protect themselves from the blows.”
Ogan said he was “was unable to explain why there was a linear and long four inches by one and a half inch injury on the right thigh. He could not tell the weapon.”
Based on the bruising and contusions, which were different from the stab wounds, Ogan said he interpreted this to mean there was a “beating going on with the stabbing.”
Testifying about Ulrich’s internal injuries, “there were diffuse contusions covering the entire skull, bleeding and occipital fractures on the skull. I could see brain tissue oozing out. This is the result of brain swelling caused by trauma to the head.”
Ogan noted “contusions of the brain, intra brain bleeding, brain which caused the brain to be soft. There should not be blood in the brain.” He also noted an “incomplete fracture on the base of the brain skull.” He said this injury is caused by an “object with a sharp end and weight that [hit] across the back of the head.”
There was a puncture wound on the right lung, a puncture of the pericarduim (sac of the heart), puncture wound of the heart and puncture wounds on Ulrich’s torso.
Ulrich’s right lung was punctured in two places. “Both lungs were collapsed, the right was worse. There was bleeding into the lungs.”
There was bleeding from the brain into her eyes. While he saw no visible injury to the neck, he said there was evidence of petechiae or “racoon eyes”. “Evidence of strangulation, choking or smothering which caused the eye vessels to rupture.”
Photos of Ulrich’s back, stab wounds on hands, bloody photos of skull were shown. Describing the injury on Ulrich’s scalp, Ogan said that noted at the time of the autopsy that it was caused by “a possible axe/sword/machete.”
There were multiple impacts on her elbow on the same site, a major fracture of the nasal bone.Noting the hinge fracture on the base of the skull, Ogan said that injury only was fatal and would cause “instantaneous death.”
Mr. Paul Sequeira showed Ogan the sword that was taken from the Ulrich residence and Ogan said “it is one of the weapons I would consider as cause of these injuries. It does have the width the weapon would have. It also linear and sharp and has features of the wounds (he drew in his diagrams) and is consistent with scalp injuries.”
On cross, Ogan said all wounds on Ulrich were pre-mortem.
The afternoon session in the Warren case had testimony from Dr. John Van Speybroeck, a general surgeon at St. Joseph’s hospital who examined both the joggers that survived, Terri Vroman Little and Jessica Hunt. Both of them testified after opening statements to their injuries.
After a strong morning of testimony by forensic pathologist, Ikechi Ogan, with details of autopsies he did on Dorothy Ulrich and Suzanne Seemann, yesterday’s court session ended with Kay Belschner, a senior criminalist with the Department of Justice testifying about evidence she collected from the Hoopa and Myrtle Avenue crime scenes, testing she conducted and results.
Ms. Belschner testified about “apparent blood stains” she collected and swabbed from the driver’s and passenger’s seat of the KIA. She tested that with a hemastix. There was also an “apparent blood stain” on the lower windshield of the KIA that she tested. She tested items in the KIA such as “two cigarette butts and a cigarette package” and did a “DNA swab” on the soda can and eyeglasses in the KIA. There was a “reddish brown stain” on the center of the windshield that was tested. She took tape lifts and swabs from various parts of the KIA, both from inside and outside. She tested the chrome piece from the crime scene and the chrome part from the front of the KIA. Some evidence such as the chrome parts were sent to the Chico lab for testing and analysis.
She collected a lot of evidence because “she did not know what would be significant,” said Ms. Belschner.
She collected “possible animal hair” which was on the bumper of the KIA and then went to the Humboldt County animal shelter to get hair from Hunt’s dog, Maggie, who was killed in the hit and run on Myrtle.
Ms. Belschner collected evidence from three different pedals in the car: the brake pedal, the accelerator pedal and the doormat on the driver’s side because she had been told that there was blood on the suspect’s shoes. She tested these swabs for blood and the test was positive.
A lock of hair that was taken from the passenger’s seat of the car was “inch and a half long and was on the passenger’s side coated with apparent blood chips,” said Ms. Belschner. She said this lock of hair had “no root or tip and was from some place from the middle length of the hair.” She had to examine it under a microscope to see the blood chips. While you cannot conclusively say what person it came from, you could exclude people. She compared this lock of hair to the hair found near Ulrich’s body and said both were coated with blood chips and were of similar size.
The fibers in the KIA were matched to the fibers in Jason Warren’s jacket. Glass pieces found on Warren’s clothing and shoes were matched with the windshield glass and again, Ms. Belschner said that while she could not conclusively say that jacket, that windshield, there were similar characteristics. She said the same about the animal hair samples.
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- Key Witness Fails to Appear in Warren Trial
- Humboldt Justice With John Chiv: Graphic Testimony Today After Key Witness Disappears