Defense attacks state's case at Goth strangulation trial

Defense attorneys at Kristopher Prudhomme's strangulation trial in New London Superior Court Monday called on a medical examiner from Michigan to present an alternative explanation for the injuries sustained by Michael Lovering.

Prudhomme, 30, now of Houston, Texas, is charged with using the string of a corset to strangle Lovering on Oct. 22, 2016, at their apartment on East Main Street in Norwich. Prudhomme is accused of leaving Lovering in an unnatural position for 12 to 15 hours after the strangulation attempt, causing Lovering to lose circulation to his legs, which had to be amputated.

Dr. Ljubisa Jovan Dragovic, chief medical examiner for Oakland County, testified that the red marks on Lovering's neck were not consistent with strangulation but could have been caused by scratching or scraping or use of some kind of "contraption" to cut off his blood supply to increase sexual arousal during an autoerotic exercise. Dragovic said ligature marks, which result from strangulation, are typically horizontally situated, but that the marks on Lovering's neck, based on a photo taken in the emergency room at The William W. Backus Hospital, were "obliquely oriented," or diagonal.  

Dragovic was one of five medical examiners who testified at the 2010 trial in New London of Charles Buck, who was found not guilty of murdering his schoolteacher wife, Leslie Buck at their Stonington home in 2002. Dragovic had testified for the defense.

Connecticut's Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. James Gill, had testified for the state last week that neck compression, or strangulation, caused Lovering to lose consciousness but not long enough to be fatal. He said the intoxication from the alcohol that Lovering had reportedly consumed heavily throughout the previous night kept him in a semi-comatose state in the kneeling position that caused him to lose circulation to the legs.

The defense has been exploring the personal lives of both Prudhomme and Lovering, who had met while involved in the Goth subculture and electronic music scene in New Orleans. Prudhomme had relocated to Connecticut to work as a draftsman at Electric Boat, and in October 2016, Lovering, who was jobless, moved north to live with him and get a new start. The state alleges that Prudhomme attacked Lovering after Lovering confessed he had sex with Prudhomme's girlfriend, Lauren Muskus. The defense has suggested that Lovering was depressed, highly intoxicated and suicidal on the night he suffered the injuries that left him legless.

On Friday, Plynlymon Rowe, the wife of Lovering's former best friend, Shade Sanguis, testified that when she knew Lovering in New Orleans, he worked only sporadically, told her he sold drugs, neglected his health and sometimes got confused due to getting beaten on the head several years ago.

Rowe's husband, Sanguis, an actor, disappeared from his home in the fall of 2015 and was found weeks later, dead of a gunshot wound to the head that was ruled a suicide. According to earlier testimony, people within Sanguis' circle of friends thought Lovering knew something, or had something to do with Sanguis' death, and that caused Lovering to be depressed.

Defense witness Mary "Violet" Reed offered perhaps the strangest testimony of the trial to date, telling jurors she had engaged in sexual activities involving bondage, dominance and submission with both Prudhomme and Lovering. She said she had met Prudhomme on the dating site GothicMatch.com in 2014 and at first they had an exclusive relationship, but decided to do the "poly" lifestyle, engaging in sex with multiple partners they met at Goth night events at local alternative clubs.

Reed said she met Lovering at a club. She said he taught her about autoerotic asphyxiation and had choked her to unconsciousness during sex. Reed testified Lovering was a "switch" who enjoyed being both dominant and submissive. She said "everyone knew" that Lovering had suicidal tendencies and that he would engage in headbanging and other activities to hurt himself.

She said Lovering liked to keep women as "pets" and insisted she be faithful even though he was having sex with others and that he gave her human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease. She said he stalked her and scared her and she broke up with him. Reed spoke of her continuing relationship with Prudhomme, and described how he and others in the Goth scene wore "fangs" made by a "fangsmith" named Maven Lore.

"It's kind of a cosmetic thing," Reed testified.

On Monday, the defense called Yale psychiatrist Alexander Westphal, who specializes in autism, to explain how Prudhomme's behaviors could be mischaracterized. Prudhomme was diagnosed in 2013 with high functioning autism, sometimes referred to as Asperger's syndrome. Westphal said that Prudhomme has average intelligence but that his autism pervades every aspect of his life.

"He belonged to the Goth subculture," Westphal said. "That was a way of  him trying to fit in. He put on a persona other than his own and joined up with other misfits."

The defense expects to rest Tuesday afternoon. Attorneys for both sides are tentatively scheduled to deliver closing arguments on Wednesday. Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed will then instruct the six-member jury on the law before the panel begins deliberating.

Prudhomme has pleaded not guilty to first-degree assault, second-degree assault, intentional cruelty to persons and tampering with evidence. In taking his case to trial, he turned down an offer from the court to plead guilty in exchange for a prison sentence of up to seven years.

k.florin@theday.com

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