Georgia tourist Khanh Lam could have died from any one of five separate injuries, including four skull fractures and a lacerated kidney, the forensic pathologist who performed Lam’s autopsy testified Wednesday.
Dr. Mark Super, testifying during the trial of murder suspect William “Bill” Hinson, said he believed Lam was struck by an object with “ridges.” Partially healed wounds on Lam’s head and body revealed parallel, scabbed-over lines, Super said.
According to previous testimony, Hinson struck Lam on the back and head with a board during a fight in July 2015 in a Garberville alley. A group of people pursued the 37-year-old Lam after he reportedly tried to take a small girl out of a van parked near the town square. A woman was screaming for him to stop, and Lam was punching her in the face.
After the fight in the alley, Lam was hospitalized with head injuries and declared brain-dead two days later.
Super said Lam had both methamphetamine and its byproduct, amphetamine, in his blood. Methamphetamine levels are characterized as either therapeutic or potentially toxic.
“This is well into that potentially toxic level,” Super said under questioning by Hinson’s attorney, Public Defender Marek Reavis. But he said it’s been found that methamphetamine levels don’t necessarily correlate with a person’s behavior.
On Wednesday the eight-man, four-woman jury viewed graphic autopsy photos depicting Lam’s injuries, including two broken ribs, a lacerated right kidney and a skull cracked in four places. The largest fracture ran from just above his left ear to the top of his head. The last photo showed Super holding Lam’s bruised and bleeding brain in his gloved hands.
Super said Lam’s family agreed to donate his organs, and a transplant team removed his heart, liver, lungs and kidneys. They returned the right kidney when they realized it was damaged.
A photo of the kidney revealed a large laceration with bleeding around it. Super said it was not a cut, but a laceration caused by blunt force.
“That is a significant injury,” the doctor said.
“Absent Mr. Lam’s head injury, could this have killed him?” Deputy District Attorney Roger Rees asked.
Lam’s skull was cracked on his forehead and the left side of his head. Also, a bone near his right eye was broken. Super said that particular bone is fragile and could have been broken just by Lam’s brain “jostling” around during impact. But any of the fractures could have been fatal, he said.
Asked whether Lam could have fallen, Super said he would have needed to fall on something with ridges.
A punch to the head would not be enough to cause the longest crack in the skull , the doctor said, because the bone there “is the hardest bone in our body so it’s pretty hard to crack.”
In Super’s opinion Lam was struck by an object, “more than once.”
Earlier in the trial, witness Reginald “Green Man” Newlin testified he watched Hinson hit the fallen Lam on the back once or twice with a board, then swing the board “golf club” style at his head.
Reavis asked whether the injuries could be explained by a person falling and fracturing his skull, then being punched multiple times in the head.
Possible, Super said, but “highly unlikely.”
According to witness Ray Preschern, who originally was also charged with Lam’s death, Lam was first attacked by the man driving the van. When Lam knocked that man down with a stepladder, Preschern stepped in and began punching Lam, leaving him unconscious. At some point either during or after that fight, Lam was struck on the head and fatally injured.
Preschern implicates Hinson in the killing by saying that even though he lost his glasses and could barely see, he recognized the colors in Hinson’s traditional clothing as he stood near Lam. Hinson wore a red-and-black Grateful Dead vest, no shirt and tan pants, Preschern said.
Witness Newlin, however, pointed out it was summer and Hinson was wearing shorts, no shirt and “some kind of shoes.”
Preschern also said he heard Hinson tell people he was the one “who swung the 4 by 4, or whatever it was.” He later backtracked on that statement, saying all he heard Hinson say was “I did what I had to do.”
Super testified that Lam had no injuries on his hands, when you would expect that someone involved in a fist fight would have bruising on the knuckles and other joints. The only injury was a tiny abrasion on the back of his right hand, which could have been from an intravenous needle inserted while he was in the hospital. Another witness, Kenneth “Kenny” Hunt, testified Hinson struck Lam with the board in self-defense when Lam charged at him “like a bull.”
Sheriff’s Investigator Jennifer Turner testified Wednesday that she found two pieces of wood “within feet” of where the unconscious Lam was found. Both were brought into court. One appeared to be an aging fence post, another a 2 by 4 board. Both had ridges similar to the ones found on Lam’s wounds. But no blood or DNA was found on either.
Defense attorney Reavis objected to the boards being admitted as evidence, saying they are not relevant. Judge Larry Killoran has not yet ruled on that issue.
Hinson, now 41, was arrested in Florida in November 2016 and booked into Humboldt County Correctional Facility in January 2017. Turner said she interviewed Hinson the day after he arrived in Humboldt.
“He told me that it was not possible that he committed this crime because he was on the mountain from May to September,” Turner said.
As a side note, Dr. Super testified that 75 percent of homicide victims he’s autopsied have methamphetamine in their systems. He has conducted thousands of autopsies.
“Methamphetamine in homicide victims is so prevalent that if (the result) is negative I think it’s a lab error,” he said.
Lam was reportedly on his way to meet family members at the Legoland amusement park in southern California, and it’s unknown why he stopped in Garberville.
Testimony was expected to continue this morning.
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