Origins Of Erin’s Bruises Called Into Question

OSWEGO, NY – Up or down – it all depends on which way you look at something.

Oswego County District Attorney Donald Dodd and defense attorney Sal Lanza spent considerable time today (Sept. 10) in the Alan Jones murder trial arguing whether the red marks on Erin Maxwell’s throat go up or down.

Jones, 28, is accused of strangling his 11-year-old stepsister on Aug. 29, 2008, in their Palermo home. She died at a Syracuse hospital early the next day.

The defense contends that Erin died as a result of an accidental hanging while she was playing with a rope in her bedroom.

The ligature marks on the neck of a person who has been hanged are V-shaped and have an upward orientation.

In the case of strangulation, the marks are more circular in nature.

When Lanza showed a photo of Erin’s autopsy to James Cronk, a medic with Mexico’s McFee Ambulance, the witness said the marks appeared to go downward.

In another autopsy photo, he noted that they marks go upward.

It depends on which way you are looking at the photo, the witness said.

Oswego County Court Judge Walter Hafner agreed with the witness.

The direction the marks go depends on which angle you are looking at, he told the defense attorney.

Lanza, however, tenaciously continued to argue that the photos show the marks are going downward.

“Ultimately,” the judge told the jurors, “it is up to you to determine whether the mark goes up or down.”

The defense questioned Cronk, Joseph Smegelsky Jr. (deputy chief of the Minetto Volunteer Fire Department and also of McFee) and Jon Chawgo, second assistant chief of the Palermo Volunteer Fire Department regarding several cuts and bruises to Erin’s body, as seen in the autopsy photos.

Besides the ligature marks on Erin’s neck, the photos show injuries to her arms, legs, chest, forehead and her lower lip.

Smegelsky testified that, on Aug. 29, 2008, he saw “some sort of red mark” on Erin’s neck, but other than that “nothing that stood out.”

Cronk also testified that the red mark was the only “injury” he noticed that day.

Chawgo said he didn’t see any injuries, other than the red mark on Erin’s neck, when he worked on her on Aug. 29, 2008.

He was one of the first people on the scene to work on Erin.

The three testified as to what EMTs did in an effort to save the little girl, including putting a breathing tube down her throat.

Could Chawgo’s life-saving efforts have caused the injuries depicted in the autopsy photos, Lanza asked.

They may have been caused by subsequent medical treatment, Chawgo testified.

He used “very little force” to insert the tube. Chawgo said he has done this procedure 100s of times and it never resulted in trauma anywhere near what was shown in the photos.

Sometimes, Chawgo said, injuries can take time to develop. He used a black eye as an example.

“If I hit you in the eye today it won’t turn black right away. You wake up the next day and it will get large, purple and disgusting,” he explained.

Also, the three witnesses noted that the mark across Erin’s forehead was likely caused by removing the tape that was used to hold her head steady as she was being transported to the hospital.

The bruising on the child’s arms, they added, may have been the result of attempts to insert an intravenous tube in her arm.

Erin was found unresponsive in her bedroom on Aug. 29, 2008. She died the next morning at a Syracuse hospital.

Jones told authorities that he discovered her with a piece of green curtain cord around her neck; the other end was attached to a screw in the window frame.

If convicted, Jones faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.