Jurors heard details from an autopsy report during testimony Friday in the Doris Phillips capital murder trial.
“Is it your opinion Doris Phillips died a violent death?” chief felony prosecutor Don Maxfield asked medical examiner Dr. Jill Urban.
“Yes,” Urban said, testifying that the autopsy revealed Phillips suffered a fracture of the right hipbone and a skull fracture – both of which she said were not typical of a fall due to their magnitude and location.
The official cause of death for Phillips, 81, was determined to be “homicidal violence, blunt force trauma,” Urban said.
The trial, which began Tuesday in 40th District Court, Judge Gene Knize presiding, is set for closing arguments Monday.
If convicted, defendant Miguel Arciba faces an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole relating to the death of Phillips, who disappeared from her Reagor Springs home July 25, 2006.
Arciba, 50, was initially arrested Sept. 3, 2006, on a burglary charge relating to the case, leading authorities to Phillips’ body in an abandoned house near Bardwell several days later, Sept. 8.
He has remained in custody since on a $1 million bond.
Because of the highly decomposed state of Phillips’ body when it was found, Urban said she was not able to determine whether any tissue injuries, such as a stab wound, were present also.
Almost all of the tissue had broken down in the body and no organs were present, she said, noting the remains, which weighed only 26 pounds, were almost mummified.
Urban said the examination focused on the skeleton, with prosecutors showing jurors photographs of both fractures. Urban described the skull fracture as a “complicated skull fracture” of many pieces located behind Phillips’ right ear.
“It had fragmented like an eggshell,” she said, noting in the photo how she and another forensic doctor had glued the pieces back together to reconstruct the area of injury.
Prosecutors rested their case after the introduction of the autopsy report.
Through the course of the trial, more than 100 exhibits were admitted into evidence, the majority of them photographs. Physical evidence admitted included a knife and Phillips’ T-shirt, both of which tested presumptive for blood.
DNA evidence found on the knife belonged to both Arciba and Phillips, experts testified, noting the dark stain on the T-shirt matched Phillips’ DNA.
One defense witness
The defense called one witness, Arciba’s niece, on his behalf.
In contrast to state witnesses’ testimony, the woman said her uncle was taken away in handcuffs from his apartment the morning of Sept. 3. Law enforcement officials involved with the case have said Arciba was not in custody and not handcuffed that morning. They testified they asked him to go with them to the sheriff’s office to answer some questions – and that he voluntarily went and talked with them. Arciba wasn’t arrested until later that day, after a warrant for his arrest was obtained, they said.
Much of the defense has focused on whether Arciba’s rights were violated and whether he was threatened or coerced into making statements. The other part of his defense has centered on whether an “Israel Valdez” was involved in Phillips’ death.
The niece testified Israel Valdez was a man she knew as “Flaco” (“skinny” in Spanish). She said Valdez was Arciba’s roommate and that she had met him one time.
Throughout the trial, investigators with the Texas Rangers and Ellis County Sheriff’s Office had testified as to their efforts to locate an “Israel Valdez,” who Arciba had described to them as a known criminal about 6-feet-tall and weighing over 200 pounds. Investigators testified they had extensively looked through Department of Public Safety and sheriff’s office databases and shown Arciba three photo lineups containing two men named Israel Valdez and one named Isaac Valdez, none of whom he identified as either his roommate or Phillips’ assailant.
After the niece’s testimony, the defense rested its case, with the jury released until Monday, when they will hear closing arguments. Each side will be allowed 30 minutes.
If convicted of capital murder, Arciba will automatically be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty in the case.
Prosecutors alleged in the indictment for capital murder that Arciba, the son of a former farm worker for the Phillips family, killed Doris Phillips during the course of either kidnapping her, robbing her or burglarizing her property.
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