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Autopsy photos show murder victim fought for his life

BATAVIA, NY -- Joseph Benaquist fought ferociously for his life when he was attacked, beaten on his head with a blunt object, and left to die on his driveway in the dead of winter.

If Benaquist could speak at all in his dying moments, it would have been before progressive deterioration of the brain ensued, which would have begun minutes after the fatal blows were struck.

Monroe County Deputy Medical Examiner Scott LaPoint testified Monday afternoon that Benaquist's ability to talk or move would have deterioriated rapidly after the attack, though he could have lived for one to four hours longer, lying on his back in a pool of his own blood, unable to move or speak.

As the fatal blows were struck, Benaquist tried to save himself, putting up his hands to stave off the strikes to his skull, LaPoint said under direct examination from Assistant District Attorney William Zickl. LaPoint said the injuries to Benaquist's hands were consistent with such defensive measures.

When Benaquist's corpse, case No. 09-396, was released to the medical examiner's office by the Genesee County Coroner, it was examined, photographed, documented and then cleaned, shaved, reexamined and rephotograped. Next, the internal organs were removed and analyzed.

The jury in the Scott Doll trial heard all about this process and then were showed gruesome, clinical photos of the 66-year-old's wounds. One of the younger women on the panel pulled a tissue up the her mouth and kept it there with boths hands, obviously distressed by the images. Two other women in the front row grimaced. Juror Number 8, who previously was warned about dozing off, was all eyes and ears.

There was a minor abrasion in the middle of Benaquist's back and more abrasions on his right shoulder. His face was scraped in places and there were at least six large gashes on his head, including a large one across his forehead.

"Any one of those...could potentially lead to a person's death," LaPoint told the jury.

His hands had the kind of injuries associated with fighting off an attacker, La Point said, noting gashes on the inside of one hand, with one finger cut down to the tendon, and cuts on the outside of the other hand.

The internal trauma consisted of two skull fractures, multiple bruises on his swollen brain and blood pooling inside the skull cavity.

His head was struck at least seven or eight times.

A person with such injuries may experience seizures, and could have difficulty moving or speaking before dying.

"Could the injuries have been caused by a car falling off a jack and onto him?" Zickl asked.

No, the witness said.

"Are the abrasions consistent with a body being dragged across a hard surface?" Zickl asked, even though the victim was fully clothed and had on a jacket.

Yes, said the witness.

On cross examination, defense attorney Paul Cambria asked if one could distinguish between injuries on the hand stemming from striking against something or being struck by something.

No, the witness said, but when the injury occurs at or below the second knuckle, it is consistent with defensive actions.

Cambria asked if it could be determined whether the abrasions on his back were the result of the body being dragged along or if they were the result of him lying on his back trying to fend off his attacker.

No, the witness said, there is no way to make that distinction.

LaPoint also acknowledged under cross examination from Cambria that it is difficult to say with certainity how much Benaquist's body could have moved, or whether he was able to speak, and for how long, following the bludgeoning.

Doll's attorney asked if a murder victim's nails, and matter underneath them, typically undergo forensic testing. Yes, LaPoint said, and that was done in this case, too, and the data submitted to the D.A.'s office. But the District Attorney apparently opted not to include them in the case files.

LaPoint was asked if there was a piece of paper with the name "Dave" on it and a phone number found in the watch-pocket of Benaquist's black jeans. Yes, and that was also submitted, the doctor said, as was a sliver of silver-like material embedded found near one of the victim's wrists.

The point being, apparently, that these two submissions also didn't make it into the case files.

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