BRYAN - Forensic experts who have worked on the President Kennedy assassination investigation and the O.J. Simpson case have helped a Williams County woman avoid murder charges.
County Prosecutor Craig Roth announced yesterday that he no longer would pursue charges against Linda Ames, in part because of reports from Dr. Werner Spitz and Dr. Michael Baden.
Both men, in independent reviews performed for the defense and the prosecution, concluded that Thomas Flint, 52, did not die from strangulation, as determined by Dr. Diane Scala-Barnett, a Lucas County deputy coroner. Ms. Ames had spent 13 months in jail awaiting a murder trial.
Dr. Scala-Barnett, however, vigorously defended her conclusion.
“If I did this autopsy again tomorrow I'd say the same thing,” Dr. Scala-Barnett said last night. “I still feel that no one has offered me an explanation - other than foul play - on how these internal injuries occurred.”
Mr. Flint was found dead inside Ms. Ames' home on June 29, 2001. The death was ruled a homicide on Aug. 11, nearly six weeks after Mr. Flint's body was discovered.
In her report, Dr. Scala-Barnett found extensive internal hemorrhaging mostly on the right side of Mr. Flint's neck, and his death was labeled a homicide by strangulation. Toxicology reports showed Mr. Flint also had a 0.12 percent blood-alcohol level and the presence of Citalpram - an antidepressant - in his blood.
Ms. Ames was released from jail on Nov. 25 after Mr. Roth received verbal indication from Dr. Baden that he believed Mr. Flint died from a combination of alcohol, Citalpram, as well as pre-existing conditions such as heart disease.
Mr. Roth hired Dr. Baden after Dr. Spitz came to a similar conclusion for defense attorneys.
But Dr. Scala-Barnett said she believes the drugs in his system were not at fatal levels.
The report from Dr. Baden also said Mr. Flint was not strangled because he lacked neck fractures, skin injury to the neck, or hemorrhages consistent with strangulation.
Dr. Scala-Barnett disagreed with this claim as well, noting that nothing in the case indicates it was a manual strangulation, versus another type of strangulation that couldn't be traced in the same manner. She said she examined the body, while Drs. Spitz and Baden saw only photographs.
Dr. Spitz is known for his work as part of the Warren Commission that reviewed the autopsy of President Kennedy. Through his probe, Dr. Spitz concluded that a lone suspect fired at the president from the sixth floor of the Texas book depository in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
Dr. Baden was a member of the O.J. Simpson defense team who testified that there were likely two killers of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in 1994. In that case, Dr. Baden disagreed with Dr. Spitz's assertion that one person could commit the crimes.
With both men, however, disagreeing with Dr. Scala-Barnett on the Flint case, Mr. Roth said he had no choice but to drop murder charges.
“I did not think we would be able to establish there was a homicide when we had two conflicting forensic pathologists,” he said.
Karen Gallagher, who was appointed to represent Ms. Ames, said she questioned the murder charges from the beginning. She also said her client always maintained her innocence.
“Linda has always said from the beginning it couldn't have been,” she said.
Prosecutors also have said that Ms. Ames told them she tried to kill herself as well after a depressed Mr. Flint arrived at her house, where he allegedly proceeded to drink and take her prescription drugs.
She said Ms. Ames is ready to get on with her life after being released from jail. Ms. Ames could not be reached for comment yesterday.
“She's trying to get back into civilization. She just wants to live a quiet life and get beyond this,” Ms. Gallagher said. “Of course, when it's been on the front of the paper [that she was accused of this] she has some problem with that.”
Jim Rupp, who is Mr. Flint's uncle, said yesterday that he understands the prosecution's position in the case.
“When both of those came back that he was not strangled, that was the end of the case that they were building on,” Mr. Rupp said. “The basis of the case was strangulation.”
He added that he believes family members are “satisfied that Mr. Flint was not strangled.”
Despite the decision to drop the charges, Lucas County Coroner James Patrick said last night that he supports Dr. Scala-Barnett's investigation and conclusion. He said their reports have been disputed before, and he added that cases of asphyxiation are among the most hotly disputed.
But he maintains that authorities still have an unsolved murder on their hands.
“Things haven't changed. We have a person who died. We don't have an explanation for that,” Dr. Patrick said. “We have a small problem here.”