Defense cross-examines Espinola about Bernstein's death - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Defense cross-examines Espinola about Bernstein's death

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It wasn't suicide. She wasn't shot to death. Nor had she fallen and hit her head.

As reported on Wednesday, the government's expert witness testified that Shelly Bernstein died as a result of blunt force trauma at the hands of another. On the stand again today, chief medical examiner Dr. Aurelio Espinola was cross-examined by defense who propose another theory as to how the 55-year-old flight attendant came to her last breath.

Accused murderer Allan Agababa is alleged to have killed his mother to collect her death benefits. It's a prescription painkiller more potent than morphine. It's fentanyl, which also slows heart rate and breathing.

On the night Shelly Bernstein was found dead in her Tamuning apartment four years ago, three fentanyl patches were found on her body. Defense attorney Curtis Van de Veld said, "It says apply one device to chest or upper outer arm only...that means only one here or here [points to his arm], correct? So, that's for extreme pain? Correct? But you found three?" Dr. Espinola replied, "That's right."

Other fentanyl patches were discovered on Bernstein's bed but those weren't counted or collected from the scene. This, according to Van de Veld, may suggest the victim died from fentanyl overdose. Defense read the drug warning label out loud for Dr. Espinola who confirmed the statements.

"If patches remain in contact with the body and the area has not been thoroughly washed, that the drug may continue to seep into the body even if the patch isn't there, correct?" Van de Veld added. "That's right," Espinola said.  Dr. Espinola performed Bernstein's autopsy in August 2013.

Though he continues to back his conclusion that Bernstein died from blunt force trauma to the head and that the manner of death was a homicide, defense pointed out a special alert released in August 2016.

According to the FDA's review, fentanyl mixed with benzodiazepines could be a deadly combination as the latter accelerates fentanyl's effects.

Urine tests confirm the presence of benzodiazepines in Bernstein's system at the time of death.

Also in Day 4 of trial, defense questioned black residue found on the victim's pillow:

Attorney Curtis Van de Veld: Was there any lab results obtained relative to that material?

Dr. Aurelio Espinola: No.

Van de Veld: So you still don't know whether that soot was caused by some explosive device?

Dr. Espinola: No, it's not soot. I'm sure it's not soot.

Van de Veld: If no analysis was ever done of it, how can you be so sure?

Dr. Espinola: I've seen thousands of soot.

We should note, although fentanyl is a prescription pain killer, neither party is anticipated to call Bernstein's primary doctor who was not identified in court documents.

To further challenge Dr. Espinola's findings, defense will revive prior testimony from their expert witness, California-based forensic pathologist Dr. Joseph Cohen who previously testified there wasn't enough information to rule Bernstein's death a homicide.

Also reiterated today, no murder weapon was ever recovered from the scene.

Trial will resume on Monday with more government testimony.

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