Testimony in capital murder trial centers on autopsy of child's burned body

Crime scene where 12-year-old Jonathan Foster's burned body was found
August 22, 2013 4:08:49 PM PDT
Investigators took the stand again on Thursday in the Mona Nelson trial. She's charged with capital murder, accused of killing a 12-year-old boy.

For the first time we heard about the autopsy of Jonathan Foster, whose body was found face down in a ditch and severely burned. Dr. Paul Radelat, a pathologist testifying for the defense, admitted that he had not actually examined Jonathan's body, but merely viewed photographs of the boy's remains and read the forensic pathologist's report. He said we may never know what happened to Jonathan, but he was confident the child was neither strangled nor burned alive.

Dr. Radelat testified, "I believe he was dead by the time he was burned. ? This child was turned into a piece of firewood. ? I can't say with any certainty what burned him. ? There is no clear-cut cause of death."

As for how the child died, there were some theories, but nothing stated as a fact.

Dr. Radelat testified, "You have to think some sort of smothering event. ? It's very difficult to come up with any conclusion, the body was badly charred. Any external evidence was gone. ? We don't have any affirmative evidence that he was smothered, but smothering wouldn't leave any affirmative evidence."

Prosecutors introduced something on cross-examination that indicates someone hit Jonathan in the center of his chest, supporting some theories that he was struck by his killer and possibly smothered afterward.

Prosecutor: "You did see a contusion on Jonathan Foster's chest, right?

Dr. Radelat: "Yes."

Prosecutor: "He could have been punched?"

Dr. Radelat: "Yes."

Prosecutor: "He could have been kicked?

Dr. Radelat: "Yes."

Prosecutor: "He could have been hit with an object?"

Dr. Radelat: "Yes."

Prosecutor: "Have you ever done any autopsies on someone burned by an oxy-acetylene torch?"

Dr. Radelat: "No."

A detective from the Houston Police Department took the stand Thursday morning. He's a detective who interviewed Nelson on several occasions before and after she was charged with capital murder in this case.

He testified about a police interview that lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. He spoke about several different conversations on multiple topics, describing Nelson's testimony as choppy and he says that she was changing her story.

The prosecutor asked Brian Harris on the stand, "When did she first realize what she was dumping was a little boy's body?"

Harris replied, "She said when the investigator showed her the picture of the charred body and I told her I was that investigator."

The prosecutor asked, "Was there any discernible, physical reaction?"

Harris said, "No."

Her defense attorney, Alan Tanner, also cross-examined Harris.

He asked why no polygraph exam was given, pointing out that his client had voluntarily said that she would agree to a polygraph exam.

The defense said, "All three times she said OK."

Harris replied, "Yes."

Defense said, "And you never did one?"

Harris replied, "No."

The defense points out again, "You never followed through with it?"

Harris replied, "That's right."

Closing arguments could be delivered as soon as Friday afternoon.

Find Katie on Facebook at ABC13KatieMcCall or on Twitter at @13katiemccall

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