Most of the blood then-school Superintendent Jim Burns lost from a stab wound that cut his aorta never left his body, a medical examiner testified Thursday in Kareem Lane’s murder retrial.
Dr. Gerald Gowitt, who conducted Burns’ autopsy after the 50-year-old died from a stab wound to the back on Oct. 19, 1992, said he found Burns died from internal bleeding that drained two quarts of blood from the severed artery into the left side of his chest.
The corresponding puncture was to the left side of Burns’ back, next to his spine, said Gowitt, adding that were a clock-face over the back to mark the wound, it would be at 10 o’clock.
The puncture was an inch and a quarter wide and tapered to a point on each side, as would fit the double-edged dagger found by the body, he said.
Externally the wound did not look so lethal, he said, adding: “On the inside, it’s devastating.”
Lane, a 17-year-old Shaw High School junior in 1992, is accused of entering Burns’ 620 Broadway home by using a key left under the front door mat for guests, then creeping into the second-floor, master bedroom and stabbing him there, possibly during a struggle.
Burns’ wife said she awoke when the bed shook and her husband yelled, “Get out of here, you son of a bitch!” She saw him chase an intruder from the bedroom, and by the time she reached the top of the stairs, Burns was standing in the open doorway on the first floor, where he collapsed and died, she said.
Because most of Burns’ blood loss was internal, the crime scene was not as bloody as described in some previous news reports. Former Columbus police crime-scene technician Doug Shafer said that aside from the puddle where Burns fell, he tracked only drops of blood up the stairs to the bedroom — except for a stairwell landing where blood had spattered and run down the wall.
In the bedroom, he found a spot of blood on the floor and another in the bed, on the side where Burns’ slept.
Shafer said he found four fingerprints that could be lifted and preserved, but matched only one to an individual, a medic responding to the ambulance call. The other prints remain unidentified, he said. None of them matched Lane’s fingerprints, he said.
Though jurors viewed a video recording of the crime scene during Shafer’s testimony, prosecutors still want the jury to visit Burns’ former home. Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters has yet to rule on that. Much of Thursday’s testimony focused on where Lane told police he had been that night.
Prosecutors maintain Lane is the lone, masked figure two residents saw jog to a gray Ford Ranger pickup parked in front of 520 Front Ave., about two blocks from Burns’ home. The truck was facing south on the one-way, northbound avenue, and knowing her neighbors were out of town, a resident at 526 Front Ave. called 911 to report it.
According to police records, a series of 911 calls ensued: The Front Avenue resident first called at 11:45 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, 1992. When no police officer responded, she called back at 12:17 a.m. that Monday to say the truck was still there.
Burns’ wife Stella Burns, now Stella Burns Butler, called 911 to get an ambulance for her husband 53 seconds after 12:23 a.m.
Fifty-four seconds after 12:25 a.m., the Front Avenue resident called 911 to report the masked runner and describe the truck as a gray Ford Ranger pickup.
At 12:30 a.m., patrol officers leaving a call to the rear parking lot of the Chapman’s store at 2334 Wynnton Road reported seeing Lane’s 1988 gray Ford Ranger pickup traveling east on Wynnton Road. They followed and switched on their blue lights, and past where Wynnton becomes Macon Road, Lane turned onto Rigdon Road and stopped.
Police had witnesses from Front Avenue come there to see the truck, and they said it matched the one they’d seen downtown. Lane was detained for questioning.
About 5:30 a.m., Detective Karen Gaskins was instructed to take Lane’s statement. He signed a waiver of rights form, and according to Gaskins’ testimony, he gave this account, which he afterward read and signed:
He usually worked 5 to 10 p.m. at a Hardee’s restaurant then on Victory Drive near Interstate 185, and got off that Sunday at 10:20 or 10:30 p.m. He changed out of his uniform in his truck and drove to what was then the L&J game room on Victory Drive.
The game room was near 30th Avenue, next door to the Foxy Lady lounge at 3023 Victory Drive. Lane told Gaskins he sat in his truck in the parking lot and listened to the radio, then left about midnight to drive to his parents’ 5940 Bertcliff Drive home, off Billings Road north of the Manchester Expressway.
Leaving the game room, he turned right toward downtown, and later turned right at some gas stations onto what he thought was 10th Avenue, taking it to Wynnton Road, Gaskins said.
That didn’t make sense to her, because no gas stations were at Victory Drive and 10th Avenue, she said. Her supervisor had her and a second detective drive Lane out to show them his route.
As they neared downtown on Victory Drive, Lane let them pass 10th Avenue and told them to turn north on what’s now Veterans Parkway, but in a few blocks said the area didn’t fit his recollection, so he had them go back to Victory Drive, Gaskins said.
Passing the gas stations at Veterans Parkway’s south end, they turned onto Victory Drive and headed away from downtown, and Lane then told them to turn north on Sixth Avenue, though no gas stations were there, either, Gaskins said.
They continued traveling north on Sixth Avenue until it curved east and became Linwood Boulevard, then turned south onto 13th Avenue, following it to Wynnton Road before turning east in the direction police said Lane was going when they stopped him, Gaskins said.
Lane did not appear to be defensive or tense during this trip, she said: “He was calm and cooperative.” Gaskins said she also asked Lane about an empty knife sheath police found in his truck. A retired police sergeant testified Wednesday that the sheath appears to fit the dagger that killed Burns. The weapon was found on the floor beside his body.
Gaskins said Lane told her the sheath was for a knife he had at home, but the sheath was too large for the blade. He consented for police to go to his Bertcliff Drive home to get it, and in a bookshelf in his bedroom officers found a double-edged knife, but it already was in a sheath “that appeared to fit it perfectly,” Gaskins said.
By then it was after noon that Monday, and police let Lane go home, she said.
Chris Samra, an investigator with the district attorney’s office, testified he tracked routes Lane might have taken to kill Burns and head for home. ' He got a laugh when first he said it took him three minutes to drive 6 miles from where the Hardee’s stood to where the game room used to be. Defense attorney Stacey Jackson wanted to know whether Samra drove about 120 mph to clock that distance.
Samra said he got the numbers backward: He drove 3 miles in six minutes.
Traveling in “moderate to heavy traffic,” he drove 2.8 miles from the game room site to 520 Front Ave. in seven minutes, he said. Driving from there to where police saw Lane’s truck on Wynnton Road, a distance of 2.9 miles, took eight minutes, he said.\
One reason detectives found Lane’s account suspicious was that the most convenient route from where he worked to his home would have been the interstate. Samra said it took him 14 minutes to drive those 12.3 miles.
Samra said he also traced the route home Lane first gave police, from the game room site on Victory Drive to 10th Avenue, north to Wynnton Road and east to where police stopped Lane’s truck. It took him eight minutes to drive those 4.7 miles, he said.
Police did not charge Lane with Burns’ homicide until cold-case investigators arrested him May 4, 2010, in Pell City, Ala., where Lane lived with his wife in a mobile home park and worked in a nearby auto parts plant.
His first trial in September 2012 ended with a hung jury that locked on a 10-2 vote in favor of finding him innocent, attorneys said. He afterward was released on $30,000 bond and moved with his wife to the Birmingham, Ala., area.
His second trial resumes this morning at 9 in Peters’ ninth-floor Government Center courtroom.