Most testimony Tuesday in convicted “Stocking Strangler” Carlton Gary’s new-trial hearing focused on a stone cast made from a bite mark found on stranglings victim Janet Cofer’s left breast after her body was discovered April 20, 1978, in her 3783 Steam Mill Road home.
Gary’s defense team maintains the cast does not match Gary’s teeth, as Gary’s were straight and even, and the cast shows the killer’s lower teeth were crowded together, with one tooth crooked. Though Gary had dental work in prison after the stranglings, that work was to his upper, not his lower teeth, the defense says.
The cast was unknown to the defense during Gary’s 1986 trial. Attorneys learned of it during his later appeals and started looking for it, but no one knew where it was. It last had been seen in the possession of longtime Coroner Don Kilgore, who died in 2000.
It remained missing until 2005, when Kilgore’s successor James Dunnavant was cleaning out a storage space in the coroner’s office and found the stone cast in a paper bag in an old file cabinet.
Dunnavant, who had served as deputy coroner under Kilgore, said he knew its significance, because Kilgore used to keep the cast in a desk drawer, and occasionally showed it off. Dunnavant in 2005 turned it over to then-District Attorney Gray Conger.
Testimony Tuesday showed the cast was made by dentist Carlos “Sonny” Galbreath of Columbus, who practiced here from 1964 until he lost the tips of two fingers in a hunting accident in 1992.
Galbreath testified he and Kilgore knew each other through a civic club, and Kilgore called him after Cofer’s homicide to ask about preserving the bite mark impression on the victim’s breast.
First Galbreath used a syringe to inject a gel into the bite wound, then after that hardened and dried, he used the rubbery impression as a mold to cast a model with a mix that dries to stone. He said the mold material commonly is used to create impressions from patients needing crowns or other dental work, to guide repairs.
Galbreath said he made a similar mold from a bite found on Kathleen Woodruff, 74, of 1811 Buena Vista Road, after she was found raped and strangled Dec. 28, 1977. But that evidence later was lost.
Gary’s lead defense attorney, Jack Martin of Atlanta, noted Galbreath during one of Gary’s federal appeals hearings testified the Woodruff cast also showed the killer had a tooth that was rotated outward, unlike Gary’s.
But Galbreath testified Tuesday that the cast from Cofer’s bite wound shows only the upper teeth, not the lower. When Martin asked Galbreath how the killer could have bit a victim’s breast without leaving lower teeth marks, Galbreath answered, “I don’t know. You tell me.”
Contradicting Galbreath was forensic dentist Thomas David of Atlanta, who’s regularly consulted in criminal cases. David testified the cast does show the killer’s lower teeth, which are crowded with a rotated cuspid.
David said he first saw this evidence July 6, 1984, about two months after Gary’s arrest. Then-District Attorney Bill Smith and Assistant District Attorney Doug Pullen brought the Cofer mold to Atlanta for him to examine, and he immediately noted the imperfections evident in the tooth marks.
When the attorneys asked whether the evidence might exclude, rather than match the stranglings suspect, David told them it could, but he wouldn’t know without seeing the suspect’s teeth, he testified.
The prosecutors never contacted him again, he said.
Martin also brought into evidence a report from then-medical examiner Joe Webber, who wrote that while examining Cofer’s body in 1978, he noted the bite showed both upper and lower teeth.
After Dunnavant found the cast in 2005, the defense had David make casts of Gary’s teeth for comparison. After examining both, David said he concluded: “In my opinion, Mr. Gary is probably not the killer.”
Martin had three witnesses who knew Gary around the time of the stranglings testify that he had straight, even teeth, which were evident from his frequent smiles and laughter. He occasionally modeled for a local clothing store then, they said.
A brief courtroom conflict ensued when Martin called British writer David Rose, author of a book about the stranglings titled “The Big Eddy Club,” to the witness stand.
Rose was to testify that Gary has large feet that would not match smaller shoe prints found at two crime scenes, but Assistant Attorney General Sabrina Graham objected that Rose had no expertise in the subject. Martin countered that the defense only wanted to measure Gary’s foot to establish its length, so no expert witness was needed.
Finally Judge Frank Jordan Jr. allowed Rose in the courtroom to use a shoe-store measure to gauge Gary’s foot length, which showed he would wear a shoe sized 13½ to 14. The shoe prints found at two crime scenes were reported to be around size 9 or 10.
At least one print was found on a hotel room bathmat after Nellie Farmer, 85, was raped and strangled in the Wellington Hotel in Albany, N.Y. Police said they also found Gary’s fingerprint on a trunk in the victim’s room.
The other print was found on an air-conditioning unit Ruth Schwob's assailant stood upon to climb through the kitchen window of her 1800 Carter Ave. home on Feb. 11, 1978. Schwob survived the attack, fighting back and pressing a panic alarm by her bed.
Another dispute erupted Tuesday when Martin asked Rose to testify to what Galbreath told him in March 2001, when Rose interviewed him while researching the book. Graham objected that such testimony was hearsay, particularly if Rose intended to say what Galbreath said Pullen had told him about the bite cast.
According to Rose’s book, Galbreath told the author that when Jeff Ertel, the first attorney to represent Gary in his appeals, sent an investigator to find the cast, Galbreath immediately called Pullen, as the two were longtime friends. He told Rose that Pullen told him to make up whatever cover story he wanted to throw Ertel off, but “don’t show him any damn thing,” Rose reported.
On the witness stand Tuesday, Galbreath told Martin he could not recall that.
Though he was not allowed to testify to what Galbreath reportedly said about Pullen, Rose did say Galbreath told him the bite cast remained in his private dentist’s office until he closed the practice in 1993 and returned the cast to Kilgore.