"She had defensive injuries. All of the fingers of the left hand were extremely bruised," Ian Hood, the pathologist who conducted Rossman's autopsy, told a jury, referring to bruising found on Rossman's left hand and forearm.
On the second day of James Joseph Smull's murder trial, Hood testified with graphic details that prompted some spectators to weep. Hood said Rossman's killer initially struck the young woman on the left cheek with a cylindrical object, "a pipe or baseball bat," then strangled her with an electrical cord before ending the assault with a "gaping" knife wound to the throat.
"There were scratches to her neck, most likely from her own fingers clawing at her neck," Hood said, indicating Rossman apparently struggled as the electrical cord was wrapped at least twice around her neck and tightened.
Hood added that a fractured voice box indicated the killer manually strangled Rossman in addition to the ligature strangulation. Rossman, 27, also sustained "knuckle-type bruises" to her jaw during the assault inside her 814 Dewees Place house, according to testimony.
The slash wound to the throat went through the pharynx, slicing the external jugular veins, Hood testified for Assistant District Attorney Gregory DiPippo, who assisted prosecutor Frank Genovese.
"It was a wound clearly made by a sawing motion, at least three times," said Hood, indicating the wound was inflicted by a serrated steak knife. "Everything about the wound indicated it was a reasonably sharp blade."
Hood, who ruled that Rossman died of blunt trauma, strangulation and a slash wound to the neck, estimated it could have taken between three and 10 minutes for the killer to inflict the injuries.
"Most of the blunt trauma had to be inflicted first. The ligature strangulation had to precede the slashing of the neck. All three mechanisms were capable of causing her death," Hood testified.
Smull, 34, listened attentively but did not appear to react to the graphic testimony about his ex-fiancee's death. Rossman's mother, Barbara, held a handkerchief to her mouth, tears forming in her eyes, as her daughter's death was described for the jurors, who appeared riveted to the testimony. Another relative hurried from the courtroom in tears.
Smull, formerly of the 300 block of South Fifth Avenue in Royersford, is charged with killing Rossman during a jealous rage on Oct. 12, 2001.
The former pitcher, who as a senior helped Spring-Ford Area High School claim a 1988 District 1 Class AAA baseball championship, is charged with first- and third-degree murder and a weapons offense in connection with the slaying, which occurred about a week after Rossman, a 1992 Phoenixville Area High School graduate, broke off her engagement with Smull.
If convicted of first-degree murder, an intentional killing, Smull could face life in prison. A third-degree murder conviction carries a maximum of 20 to 40 years in prison.
Defense lawyer Frank DeSimone attacked the way authorities handled the investigation, specifically the fact that no one determined a time of death for Rossman. Therefore, DeSimone implied, prosecutors can't prove their allegation that Rossman was killed between 11:10 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., when they alleged Smull was at her home.
Deputy Coroner Donna Catagnus testified she photographed Rossman's body and prepared it for transport to the county morgue after it was discovered about 5 p.m. However, Catagnus said she did not take the temperature of the body because that is not required to pronounce someone dead.
"It's not a standard practice to take body temperature (at the scene)," Catagnus testified. DeSimone implied that knowing the body temperature could have helped investigators determine the time of death.
Hood later testified, however, that one body temperature taken at the murder scene would not necessarily have been helpful in determining the exact time of death and could have helped estimate the time of death only within six hours.
Catagnus also testified that Rossman's abdomen and back were "warmer" than other parts of her body when she examined her at 6:55 p.m. DeSimone implied the warmth was a sign that the death was more recent than 11:45 a.m.
Hood testified, however, that he'd expect body warmth to be present for "several hours" after death.
DeSimone also implied that investigators didn't determine if rigor mortis, the stiffening of the body after death, had set in by the time the body was discovered. Pointing to Catagnus' testimony that she noticed only "slight" rigor mortis in Rossman's legs, which were propped up on a wicker chair, DeSimone implied Rossman had been killed closer to the 5 p.m. discovery of her body.
Hood testified, however, that rigor mortis begins to be present in a body between six and 12 hours after death.