‘A Whisper Away From Death’

OSWEGO, NY – A former A. L. Lee Memorial ER doctor, Dennis Mullaney, took the stand today (Sept. 11) in Alan Jones’ murder trial.

Jones, 28, is accused of killing his 11-year-old stepsister, Erin Maxwell, last August in their Palermo home.

Oswego County District Attorney Donald Dodd presented Dr. Mullaney as an expert witness.

Sal Lanza, Jones’ attorney, objected on several fronts. And, after the jury was sent out of the courtroom, a lengthy debate ensued between the attorneys with participation from Oswego County Court Judge Walter Hafner as well.

The prosecution says the child was strangled by Jones.

The defense says she accidentally hung herself while playing with a rope in her bedroom.

“This word hanging has been so loosely used,” Hafner said during the debate. “We don’t even know what it means.”

The DA had asked the doctor to draw ligature marks most commonly seen on hanging victims on copies of Erin’s autopsy photos. His intent was to illustrate that the marks on Erin’s neck didn’t go upward as those seen on a hanging victim; they are more consistent with someone who has been strangled.

The doctor had already testified that he had seen “25 to 50” patients who were hanging victims.

The judge said he didn’t consider Mullaney an expert on ligature marks, prohibiting the doctor from testifying as such.

He would, however, allow the doctor to continue on the stand as a fact witness and testify about how he treated Erin.

According to Dodd, Jones placed a rope around Erin’s neck and tightened it with “depraved indifference” causing her death by cutting off the flow of blood to her brain.

Lanza said Erin was playing game with a piece of wood in her bedroom. She was mimicking the opening scene of the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” where a girl walks the plank, he said.

“We believe she placed the rope on the wood screw … somehow she was on this bed, on the plank, and the poor child thought, ‘I’d jump off the bed and I have enough rope.’ When she jumped off the bed, lo and behold, there wasn’t enough rope, and her feet didn’t touch the floor,” Lanza explained.

This was the first time since the trial started that both sides had clearly explained the two possible ways (accidentally or intentionally) that Erin might have died, the judge told them.

The DA also called Dr. Kevin Ragosta, a pediatric intensive care specialist from University Hospital in Syracuse, as a witness.

Testimony continued to focus on whether some injuries visible in Erin’s autopsy photos (but not seen by EMTs who worked on her the previous day) were caused by rescue personnel’s efforts to save her, or by an assault by Jones.

“This young lady, when she arrived (at the hospital), was very, very close to the technical definition of brain dead,” Ragosta testified. “There was no meaningful treatment. She was already a whisper away from death.”

He knew she was going to die, he said, adding that shortly after 4 a.m. on Aug. 30, 2008, (the day after she had been found ‘unresponsive’ in her bedroom) “her blood pressure plummeted and her heart stopped.”

Testimony in the case will resume on Monday morning.

1 Comment

  1. Dr. Mullaney is the most caring and dedicated doctor I know. I had the pleasure of working with him for a few years. He truly cares about all the patients that came through the ER at Lee. He fights for those that can’t fight for themselves.

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