Forensic pathologist gives grim details of Mintz’ fatal injuries

Published 1:38 am Thursday, May 29, 2014


Daughter, detective, SBI testify in McGraw murder trial

After hearing emotional testimony from murder victim Vanessa Mintz’ daughter, Jessica Freeman on Wednesday morning causing half the audience to sob along with her, the family also listened to grim details from the forensic pathologist about fatal wounds to Mintz’ elbow area and right eye from shotgun blasts.

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The murder trial of Mintz’ husband, Travis Lee McGraw, 47, continued Wednesday with testimony from Freeman, a forensic pathologist, a detective and a state bureau of investigation (SBI) agent regarding evidence found.

McGraw is facing a first-degree murder charge and sat motionless during Freeman’s testimony as she cried and screamed remembering finding her mother’s lifeless body at the Saluda Mountain Lodge on Feb. 19, 2011.

The autopsy

Dr. Jerri McLemore, a forensic pathologist and professor of pathology at Wake Forest University methodically told of two wounds to Mintz’ body, one to the arm and one to the face. The shot to the arm, McLemore said, could have been recovered if medical treatment was received immediately, but the shot to the head, or eye area, was unrecoverable.

Senior Assistant District Attorney Alex Bass asked McLemore what evidence she found of injury.

McLemore said there were two signs of injury. One involved the right arm with obstruction of skin, muscle and elbow joints that extended up in the shoulder. She said pellets were found in tissue in the shoulder. She explained that a tear in the lower arm could have been caused by broken bones from the pellets.

Another wound was to Mintz’ right eye, McLemore said, and consisted of pellets, “which internally caused damage to the brain.”

Bass asked in McLemore’s opinion, what caused the fatal injuries.

McLemore said from the “tissue damage and spread of pellets, this was a shotgun.”

Bass asked if she could determine where the shotgun blasts actually hit.

McLemore said one entrance was near the elbow with the pellets going upward into the arm. The other entrance was into the eye, extending out the right cheek causing a very large, gaping wound with other wounds on the nose and lower half of the face.

Bass asked which shot occurred first; to the arm or the head.

McLemore said she couldn’t say for sure because there are so many variables. She said common sense is the arm was raised first to protect from the blast, with McLemore raising her right arm on the stand as Mintz may have done. But it could have been the head was hit first and the arm was raised, McLemore said, but it all depends on how fast the shots were fired. Once the shotgun to the head occurred, McLemore said Mintz would have been unable to move.

McLemore also testified that she was unable to determine at what range the shots were fired saying it is more difficult to determine range with a shotgun than with a handgun or rifle.

McLemore examined evidence she found in the body, including a bag of pellets found both in the arm and the head, wadding from the shotgun shell and a piece of one of the shell casings found in the head.

Defense attorney Tony Dalton asked if McLemore received the body in a bag. McLemore answered that the body was not sealed in a bag. Dalton also asked if photographs were taken of the lower extremities of the body, with McLemore answering that no photographs were taken of the lower half of the body because there were no injuries to Mintz’ legs.

The collection of possible evidence

Both former det. Charles D. Hitch with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and SBI Special Agent Jim Schandevel testified about collecting guns from McGraw’s home on Feb. 19, 2011. Hitch also testified about being at the scene of the crime and what he observed before the SBI was called to lead the investigation.

The investigators took McGraw to his home, where McGraw, said to be very cooperative, showed them where all his guns were located. The evidence Wednesday seemed to focus on a camouflage Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun, which was shown on the stand on two different occasions Wednesday.

Hitch said he arrived at the Saluda Mountain Lodge at 10:19 a.m. Feb. 19, 2011. He said he sheriff’s office, the Columbus Police Department and possibly someone from the Saluda Police Department first cleared every room and bathroom to ensure there were no suspects on scene or any other victims. Hitch said Maj. Calvin Atkins with the sheriff’s office determined the SBI should be involved and state agents were called.

Hitch said he examined the manager’s quarters where Mintz’ body was found and saw that the area was neat and orderly. He noticed a couple of drinks, a white female lying on the bed, said the lights were off, the room was warm and noticed a shell casing on the floor of the bedroom. He also noticed a large pool of what appeared to be red staining on the wall and brain matter. Hitch said he saw the victim’s right arm had suffered severe damage with a large hole in the elbow/forearm area.

“Did you collect any evidence?” Bass asked Hitch.

“No sir,” Hitch responded.

“Did you touch anything?” Bass asked.

“No sir,” Hitch said.

“Did you move anything,” continued Bass.

“No sir,” Hitch said.

Hitch said next he noticed a large hole in the victim’s facial area with most of the damage being to the right eye.

He also said he noticed the victim was wearing a wedding band on her left ring finger and a large diamond ring on a right finger as well as a pile of jewelry also in the room, including a large ring and watch and other items.

Hitch said he also noticed the cash drawer was pulled out.

Hitch said he was in charge of taking the evidence and locking it into a secure evidence room at the sheriff’s office, as well as transporting the evidence to the SBI crime lab in Asheville the next week.

said he arrived on scene at 11:42 a.m. He said he first interviewed Freeman, then asked McGraw to be interviewed, saying McGraw was “extremely cooperative.” Schandevel also said he interviewed guests at the hotel, with some coming back to the lodge to be interviewed after they had already left.

Schandevel said he, Hitch and McGraw traveled in his Dodge Charger to McGraw’s home to recover McGraw’s firearms around 4:45 p.m.

The decision to recover McGraw’s firearms was made after firearms and a shotgun shell matching the one found in the bedroom where Mintz was found was located in McGraw’s red Chevy pickup truck.

Schandevel said McGraw led him downstairs to a gun cabinet where the Mossberg shotgun was stored and said he retrieved two live rounds from the gun and placed the shells on the side of the gun with three other live rounds.

There were four total guns retrieved from McGraw’s home in Laurel Park on Feb. 19, 2011, according to testimony.

Prior to ending the session on Wednesday, Judge Tommy Davis heard testimony regarding how the state obtained cell phone records from McGraw. Dalton objected to both the cell phone and text message records being admitted into evidence as well as testimony from Mary Beth Fisher, an alleged girlfriend of McGraw’s at the time of Mintz’ murder. Davis said he would make his decision on the motion and objection at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, when the state’s witnesses are scheduled to continue.