Expert says bleach theory doesn't add up - | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Expert says bleach theory doesn't add up

Kimberly Saenz. Source: Angelina County Jail. Kimberly Saenz. Source: Angelina County Jail.

The fourth week of the capital murder trial began with the defense calling forensic pathologist Dr. Amy Gruszecki back to the stand. She originally took the stand late Friday afternoon.

Kimberly Clark Saenz, 38, of Pollok, is charged with capital murder and five counts of aggravated assault. She allegedly injected bleach into the bloodstream of kidney dialysis patients.

The witness testified that she has been called to testify in many trials. She said most of the time, 95 percent of the time, she testifies on behalf of the prosecution.

Defense attorney Ryan Deaton asked the witness about her methods of determining cause of death. He asked if there was ever times where her scientific research did not add up with what was told to her to be the cause of death.

"I have had to disagree with them or at times say that I don't have enough information to prove that," said the witness.

The witness said there was no sign of hemolysis. Hemolysis is the breakdown of red blood cells and the release of hemoglobin that occurs normally at the end of the life span of a red blood cell.

"None of them have any evidence of hemolysis. None of the doctors that treated them found evidence of hemolysis," said the witness.

In her testimony, Gruszecki testified that her research did not yield any evidence to claim that the 10 alleged victims listed in the indictment were injected with bleach. She said bleach breaks apart red blood cells.

"There's, in my opinion, no signs to support that in medical records," said the witness.

Deaton asked Gruszecki about research she's done on bleach injections and the reactions that occur following the contact.

"They [articles] describe that when a person is injected with bleach, their arm becomes red, it's hot, it's swollen," said the witness.

The witness testified that patient's, like Carolyn Risinger, did not exhibit these signs, according to medical records.

"If a person were to inject 10cc of bleach into the lines of a dialysis patient, what would the response be?" said Deaton.

"The response would be immediate. It wouldn't be 2 hours later," said the witness. "The red blood cells, the tissue around it, would have an immediate response to bleach.

The witness explained that because the patients were already on dialysis machines, if bleach were added to their systems, it would mix inside of them even quicker. She also said, 10cc of bleach is a large amount of bleach to introduce into one's body.

Deaton then asked the witness about the reaction of Debra Oates to possibly being injected with bleach. According to the witness, the response time was inconsistent with revealing Oates was injected with bleach.

"In my opinion, Ms. Oates would have felt something or had a reaction more immediately than two hours later," said the witness. "We would see some reaction immediately, in a minute at most."

The witness testified this would have been the same in the case of Marva Rhone.

Deaton asked the witness about her review of the health records of Graciela Castenada.

"Ms. Castenada had a history of hypertension," said Gruszecki. "Probably the most interesting information that I noticed about Ms. Castenada was that she was sent to the hospital for choking."

From what she noted on the day Castenada had an episode, on April 16 was that she was diagnosed with choking symptoms and pneumonia.

"All of which would call respiratory stress to an individual," said Gruszecki.

The witness briefly went over the extensive medical histories of Debra Oates and Marie Bradley. Gruszecki noted Bradley reported that she felt unwell, including problems with her blood pressure, the weekend prior to April 23, the day she had an episode at DaVita. Medical history shows she had issues with her arteries in her neck being blocked, coronary artery disease, as well as a coronary artery bypass, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

Deaton asked Gruszecki if she could even tell an event occurred with Rhone, according to charting done on her the day of her episode at the clinic.

"It's hard to say what exactly happens to Ms. Rhone with her events," said Gruszecki.

"Based on your review of the medical records, the literature, and everything else, the testimony that you listened to or read, can you give the jurors your opinion on the events that happened at Lufkin Davita in April 2008?" said Deaton.

The witness testified that three of the patients did not have autopsies, therefore it was concluded they died of natural causes.

In the case of Garlin Kelley, Gruszecki said e-coli was found in his system, which needed to be treated. She says subsequently, that contributed to his death. Gruszecki says Cora Bryant succumbed to natural disease.

"Her autopsy absolutely showed her severe natural disease," said the witness. "All of which is consistent with her hypertension, natural history of hypertension and diabetes as well."

As for the five alleged victims who survived their episodes at the clinic, the witness says they suffered natural disease as well.

"Ms. Castenada choked," said the witness. "All of the other patients had natural diseases and were on dialysis based on their significant natural diseases. That's not to say they were sickly."

While she does not believe they were injected with bleach, the witness says they may have come in contact with a low amount of chlorine.

"They were all exposed to a low level of chlorine, which would add to their health issues," said Gruszecki.

The prosecution asked the witness which article she relied upon to get her information to use for research and investigation. With some discussion about there not being one exact article, the prosecution said it would be hard to cross-examine the witness.

Prosecutors pointed out that the witness did not have an opinion in this case 3 weeks prior to the trial starting, pointing out that she however does have an opinion today.

"I was just asked to become a part of the case literally one week before you called me," said Gruszecki.

The prosecution also asked the witness how much she charges per hour.

"Three-hundred dollars," said the witness.

She said she did not recall how many hours she has spent on this case so far.

The prosecution asked Gruszecki about the cases in which she testified for the defense, asking if she was trying to expand her business in criminal defense. The prosecution also asked what the witness reviewed in order to form her opinions in this case. She testified she did not look over the lengthy police reports. Also, she did not review FDA reports.

"I was not provided with those," said Gruszecki. "Majority of my focus was to look at each of the individual patients and see what was happening with them."

The defense called upon Jim Risinger, asking him if he had the opportunity to speak with his wife, alleged victim Carolyn Risinger, on April 28, 2008, the day she suffered an adverse occurrence during her dialysis treatment at the Lufkin DaVita clinic. The witness said he did. Deaton asked the witness to talk about April 28 when he went to pick up Risinger from the clinic.

"Well, when I went in to DaVita, Carol was lying there about halfway out," said Risinger. "Her cheeks starting looking red and she looked up and talked to me and I knew she was going to be alright."

After laying down for a couple hours at home, Risinger recalled his wife started feeling better. He said from that day forth, he took his wife to dialysis in Nacogdoches.

"She [Risinger] said she [Saenz] didn't give her anything that she knew of or anything else," said Risinger.

Risinger said his wife specifically told him that Saenz did not administer any treatment to her that day.

The prosecution the resumed cross-examining Gruszecki by having her read out the cause of death on the death certificates of Bryant and Kelley.

"Complications to exposure of chlorinating compounds, parenthesis bleach," said the witness.

The witness testified that the death certificates do say that there was exposure to bleach because that's perhaps what the cause was believed to be at the time.

The prosecution argued that there was not literature out there to support that 10cc of bleach would cause a great amount of hemolysis, asking the witness to point out what articles support this. The prosecution asked her to tell jurors where that information was located, to which she could not remember.

"No, not at the moment," said the witness.

The prosecution then argued that literature may not even exist. Prosecutors pointed out that 7 out of 10 patients left the DaVita Clinic unconscious.

The prosecution asked the witness about her findings on Opal Few, although Few did not have an autopsy performed.

"We do not know what happened to Ms. Few and what other diseases she had when she passed away because an autopsy was not performed," said Gruszecki.

The prosecution pointed out that there was a needle, which tested positive for bleach, held in a bag for evidence with Few's name on it. There were also puncture wounds, according to prosecutors, on Few.

Gruszecki says that is not concrete evidence that bleach was injected into Few just because a needle tested positive for bleach. The witness testified that she would have to know the conditions under which the needle was found and there's no proof what was in it was injected into Few.

The prosecution asked the witness about her conclusions that the 5 alleged victims died of natural causes, asking her if she was more suited to know about patient conditions as opposed to their doctor. Gruszecki said in her experience, she is in the field to finding what caused death. She said doctors are not there to tell patients that they will die soon.

Prosecutors asked the witness about her assessment about Kelley's death. She concluded that he died from an ecoli virus, which was acting as pneumonia.

"Chest pain and coughing, fever," said Gruszecki. "I think it certainly killed him and it certainly contributed. He had respiratory failure and passed away."

These findings, Gruszecki said, were concluded from hospital records of what he was being treated for.

The prosecution said that Kelley had a syringe with bleach hanging from his line, according to the FDA report. Referencing that finding, the prosecution asked the witness if she still believed Kelley died from pneumonia, although he showed no symptoms of illness 5 minutes before he was seriously ill. Gruszecki testified that she has performed autopsies on many people who have died of pneumonia and did not know it. She concluded she still believed Kelley died of pneumonia.

The witness told prosecutors she does not know how much bleach it takes to get to abnormally high levels of potassium inside one's body.

In earlier, testimony, Gruszecki said 10cc of bleach is a large amount of bleach to inject into one's body.

The prosecution asked the witness, since she is not a board certified toxicologist, is she or a board certified toxicologist more qualified to determine the victims' causes of death.

"If that bleach exposure leads to someone's death, I am qualified to determine it," said Gruszecki.

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