Jurors in a Duluth murder trial learned Thursday about a medical examiner’s findings in the autopsy of 28-year-old Joshua Olson, but the jury will have to proceed without Dr. Donald Kundel’s testimony. The longtime St. Louis County deputy medical examiner died in a plane crash last September at age 79.
Joshua Lee Littlewolf, 42, is charged with second degree murder in Olson’s death. Olson was found stabbed to death at the Frances Skinner Apartments in April 2012.
Littlewolf is representing himself in court and is attempting to prove that he left the apartment before Olson was killed that night. The prosecution says evidence will show that Littlewolf got involved in a fight with Olson, killed him and fled the scene.
Among the findings in Kundel’s autopsy report that was submitted into evidence Thursday was his estimation that Olson died between 2 and 3 a.m. on April 27, 2012.
On Wednesday, Duluth police investigator Michael Tinsley testified that surveillance video shows Littlewolf leaving the apartment building at approximately 3:08 that morning. Littlewolf did not contest that finding, but has said Olson was still alive when he left.
Kundel’s former colleague, Richard Nelson, who pronounced Olson dead on the scene and assisted in the autopsy, took the stand Thursday in Kundel’s place.
At least one juror appeared interested in the time element. During a break in Nelson’s testimony, the bailiff delivered a note from a juror to the judge, asking that Nelson give his opinion about Olson’s time of death.
Judge Shaun Floerke reminded jurors that they are not allowed to ask questions and have to rely solely on the case’s testimony and evidence.
Littlewolf, however, asked Nelson the same question a few minutes later. Nelson told the court that the question was beyond his expertise and referred to Kundel’s report.
“I don’t know where Dr. Kundel got that time,” he said. “It’s beyond my expertise why he put that in there.”
Nelson also told the court that Olson’s blood-alcohol level was .261 at the time his death, and said acute alcohol intoxication was among the causes of death. The primary cause is listed as severe lacerations to the neck that reached the trachea.
Duluth police crime scene investigator Dan Saletel also took the stand Thursday, testifying about his findings inside the apartment and the resulting investigation.
Olson’s body was found lying alongside a wall near the entrance of the apartment. Salatel told the court that blood splatters found on the wall match those found on the pair of shorts believed to be worn by Littlewolf the night of the murder. He testified that the shorts were recovered from a garbage can in the bathroom at the M & H gas station, 1230 W. Michigan St.
Page 2 of 2 - An issue of the alleged murder weapon also arose during Salatel’s testimony.
Jurors were shown photographs of a small, plastic-handled steak knife found lying in a pool of blood between Olson’s head and arm. The upside of the knife appeared to be completely free of blood, other than a small amount found at the tip of the blade, and it was not consistent with having been used in a violent murder, Saletel testified.
“I can’t put my finger on it, but it didn’t look right,” he said. “It seemed to be out of place.”
A bread knife with a serrated blade that was found in the apartment had some remnants of blood, Saletel said. The knife, found on the kitchen counter, had very small amounts of blood on its teeth and the ridge where the blade meets the handle, he said.
Both knives were submitted into evidence and jurors were allowed to get a close look at them.
Prosecutor Nate Stumme told jurors in his opening statement Tuesday that the evidence will show that Littlewolf killed Olson with the bread knife. Experts are expected to later testify for the state that the blood on the bread knife belonged to Olson.
With Saletel’s testimony running late, Littlewolf did not have an opportunity to cross examine him Thursday. He is expected to do so when the trial resumes this Friday morning.
Littlewolf said in his opening statement Tuesday that Olson came at him with a knife for unknown reasons that night. He described the blade as being serrated and said it was “like a small sword.” He said he took the knife away from Olson and defended himself, giving Olson a small wound, but not one serious enough to kill him.
Littlewolf said in the opening statement that he does not know how the smaller knife ended up near Olson’s body and said he had never seen it before.