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Medical examiner faces tough questions at Chyung murder trial

By Karen Florin

Publication: The Day

Published March 21. 2014 4:00AM

The cause and manner of Paige Anne Bennett's death were never in doubt, but a medical examiner still faced tough questions when he testified Thursday at the murder trial of Chihan Eric Chyung.

Chyung admits he shot and killed Bennett at their Norwich home on June 2, 2009, but says it was an accident. The state alleges Chyung shot Bennett intentionally and is prosecuting him for murder and first-degree manslaughter with a firearm. Chyung has pleaded not guilty and opted for a trial, which got underway Wednesday in New London Superior Court with testimony from first responders and neighbors of the Chyung home at 257 Norwich Ave.

On Thursday, the jury heard from crime scene detectives who documented the scene and collected evidence. They also learned about the legal problems of Dr. Frank Evangelista, a state medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Bennett's remains.

Evangelista testified that he extracted a bullet that had entered into Bennett's forehead and traveled to the back right side of her skull. He said Bennett had "stippling," or red burn marks around the entry wound, indicating she was likely shot from a distance of 1 to 3 feet. He said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was homicide.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Kathleen M. Rallo, Evangelista calmly admitted he had been indicted for perjury in Massachusetts and that his case is still pending.

"Perjury is when you are on the stand and do not testify truthfully, correct?" Rallo said.

"I was testifying, yes," Evangelista responded.

Medical examiners routinely testify in court about their findings in post-mortem examinations. Evangelista, who has worked as a medical examiner in Connecticut since 2004, has from time to time returned to Massachusetts, where he previously worked, to testify in death cases. In 2011, he was indicted for perjury after the prosecutors in a murder case accused him of giving inconsistent testimony at the trial of an accused killer in 2006 and his co-defendant in 2010.

The attack on the medical examiner's credibility came as Evangelista testified about bruises on Bennett's body that had not been documented in his autopsy report, due, he said, to a transcription error. Evangelista denied Rallo's assertion that there was "an entire section" of his report missing, but admitted he was the subject of a criminal prosecution in Massachusetts.

Despite the defense lawyer's efforts to keep Bennett's bruises from the jury, Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed allowed Evangelista to describe the purple and blue bruises he observed on Bennett's upper chest and shoulder area and her thighs. He said he could not determine when she had acquired the bruises. The jurors also viewed photographs of the injuries.

When the trial resumes today, the state is expected to display a video recording of the hours-long interview of Chyung that Norwich police Sgt. Peter B. Camp conducted in the aftermath of the shooting. Camp began testifying late Thursday about the interview, which lasted more than six hours, and the collection of evidence, including the blue jeans, boots and T-shirt that Chyung was wearing.

Chyung shot his wife of just three weeks after a protracted argument at their Taftville home, according to testimony. He left her body on the kitchen floor and drove away from the scene, but returned some time later and called police after speaking with a friend. Police took him into custody without resistance and recovered his gun, a Glock 9 mm, in his pickup truck. Expert testimony at the trial is expected to focus on the gun, which has no external safety feature.

Chyung spent the first three years in prison while his case was pending, but has been free since August 2012, when he posted a $1 million bond.

k.florin@theday.com

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