Investigator: I Couldn’t Breathe Well In Maxwells’ Bedroom

A State Police Investigator testified that there was so much ammonia in the air in Lynn and Lindsey Maxwell’s Palermo bedroom that he couldn’t breathe well.

Inv. Joseph Harriger spent four hours on the witness stand Thursday night and will be back there tonight when court resumes.

He is part of the State Police’s Forensic Investigations Unit, which gathers evidence at crime scenes.  The Maxwells are accused of four counts of endangering the welfare of Erin Maxwell, Lindsey’s daughter, who died at the home last August 29.  Erin’s stepbrother, Alan Jones, will go on trial in September for allegedly sexually abusing and murdering her.

Hazriger got to the Maxwell home a few hours after the initial call and took some of the many photos that have been, so far, the only evidence shown to the jury.

Harriger testified that he picked up the smell of ammonia, which he recognized as being from cat urine, in the Maxwells’ driveway upon his arrival.  His account largely backed up the account of Trooper Shawn Finkle, who was the first police officer at the scene.

Harriger described a kitchen and living room with many caged cats, chickens and birds and also described the cat feces he found and photographed in places in those rooms.  Harriger is the officer who found the bodies of 20 dead kittens in the Maxwells’ freezer, wrapped in grocery bags and stored alongside food.

He photographed Erin Maxwell’s room, including the condition of her bed.  The jury was shown photos of bedding with widespread brown stains.  Harriger said that while he was in the room, the two doors to the room closed on their own beind him and he was locked inside.  He pushed the door to try to open it, but could not.  He said he tried to pry his fingers  between the door and the casement to force it open, but that failed, too.  What did you do, asked Assistant District Attorney Mark Moody?  “I yelled for assistance,” he said.

Two of the four counts against the Maxwells allege that the three locks on Erin’s doors, which were all on the outside of the door, were a threat to her sasfety in an emergency.

Harriger took photos in the Maxwells’ master bedroom, showing numerous cats inside the closed room and piles of feces in several spots.  But he didn’t stay long.  “When I went in, I was taken back by the strong odor of ammonia,” he said.  “When I went to take a breath, I felt like I couldn’t.”  He stayed only 5 minutes.

When he and other investigators returned two days later, they wore gas masks as they rounded up cats and turned them over to the Humane Society.

Harriger said 63 cats were taken from the home that day, along with the 20 frozen cat bodies.  But defense lawyer Sal Lanza showed Harriger the receipt Harriger had signed that day certifying that only 43 cats were taken from the home.  Harriger maintained that 63 live cats were removed from the home and, when asked whether his testimony or the receipt was wrong, he said the receipt was wrong.

Harriger testified that not all of the cats in the home were removed that day because they couldn’t catch all of them. Harriger later received a month-long course of rabies shots as a precaution.

Lanza discussed with Harriger at length the lack of cat feces in some of the rooms of the home.  Lanza is attempting to shoot down the core claim in the other two counts against the Maxwells, which charges animal wastes were”widespread” in the home.

The trial, which is playing before a nearly full audience in Palermo Towo Court, continues Friday night at 7:00 p.m.

1 Comment

  1. 43 or 63 cats? Does that matter? And big deal… you have one room in your house free of cat feces and that is supposed to make it ok? How do you sleep at night Lanza?

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