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Second Opinion ServicesSM (Unsolved /Cold Cases)
Case #2

Listed below is the response received from POMC's expert, Dr. Harry Bonnell after receiving case information from a survivor. Also included is media coverage of the case that was reopened and led to an arrest and conviction. The murderer was sentenced to 15 years to life!

To: Parents Of Murdered Children, Inc.

I have reviewed the autopsy report, toxicology report, BCI report on clothing, death certificate and synopsis of Investigation regarding the decedent.

Exhumation as soon as possible and re-autopsy by a qualified forensic pathologist is indicated. This appears to be an asphyxial death; the presence of petechial hemorrhages in the eyes and face, as-well-as on the pleural surfaces support this. There is no evidence in the autopsy report to substantiate aspiration as the cause of death.

The blood alcohol level and small amount of alcohol in the stomach do not substantiate her passing-out or even being significantly intoxicated. The dry ground underneath the body as-well-as the lividity seen on her back in pictures, indicates that she not only lay in that position for a long time, but was in fact dead for that period of time.

The biggest shortcoming in the autopsy is the lack of an adequate neck dissection. My initial impression is that this girl was either smothered or strangled, probably with the assailant straddling her on top with her back on the ground.

Please contact me or tell the police to feel free to contact me, if there are any questions.

Sincerely,
Harry J. Bonnell, M.D.

 


After 5 months, death re-examined
Body of woman, 19, to be exhumed
by Candace Goforth and William A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Clermont County officials looking for evidence of murder, will exhume the body of a woman who died mysteriously last fall, three days before her wedding.

Kristina Harris, 19, or Glen Este, was found dead October 13, lying on her back in the back yard of her fiancé's mother's Union Township home. She had a partially empty bottle of rum in her left hand and dirt covered her clothing.

Police ruled the death accidental, theorizing that she had choked on her own vomit or succumbed to alcohol poisoning, Clermont County Prosecutor Donald White said.

But Harris' family members were skeptical, said Betty Kennedy, Harris' grandmother. They knew Harris as a conscientious young woman who rarely drank alcohol.

Two weeks ago, the family contacted Parents Of Murdered Children (POMC), a Cincinnati-based national support group.

The group sent the results of Harris' autopsy and the police investigation to an independent California pathologist. The pathologist is a volunteer member of POMC's Second Opinion Program, a team of experts who look into unsolved cases.

Three days ago, the pathologist told Harris' family and local law enforcement officials that something was wrong. A 3.5-inch blade of grass was found in her trachea, and her blood alcohol was only .04 - the equivalent of about half a shot of liquor.

White said the death seemed suspicious during the initial investigation, but an autopsy by the Clermont County Coroner's office revealed no indication of foul play.

White said based on the independent pathologist's opinion, he will seek a court order to exhume Harris' body next week.

Clermont County Coroner Nick Capurro said he was not aware that White was planning to have Harris' body exhumed. He said he stands by his office's ruling of "undetermined."

In his 23 years as coroner, he said his official opinions have never been questioned.

"You can't arrest people just because you think," Capurro said. "You have to prove and we could not."

"The woman was not strangled, she was not shot, she was not poisoned, she was not stabbed. You tell me how many other ways she could be killed. I'm not God, I'm the coroner."

Kennedy, of Bethel, said she expects the exhumation to lead to the arrest of a killer.

"None of our family is going to rest until justice is done."

 


Family's Persistence Pays Off
Fiancé charged in '94 Death
by Mary Jennings
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nearly 15 months after Kristina Harris was found dead in a Union Township back yard, her fiancé Donald Mills, was indicted in her slaying.

He was charged with murder and involuntary manslaughter Wednesday by a Clermont County Grand Jury. Mr. Mills turned himself in to the Clermont County Jail. He will be arraigned on the charges today.

The indictment was a victory for Ms. Harris' family and friends who pushed to have her body exhumed, picketed police stations and badgered law enforcement officials weekly to investigate her death.

Still, the victory came with bitter memories for her parents Robert and Patricia Brannum.

"It's just like it happened yesterday," Mr. Brannum, a resident of Union Township, said shortly after Mr. Mills was indicted.

Mr. Mills, 21, will plead not guilty to the charges, said his attorney R. Scott Croswell, III. "He didn't do it."

If convicted, Mr. Mills faces 15 years to life in prison on the murder charges and 10 to 25 years on the manslaughter charges.

Prosecutors think Kristina Harris died after being smothered or suffocated, said Daniel "Woody" Breyer assistant Clermont County Prosecutor.

"We have enough evidence" he said. "Obviously, we're not going to be bringing charges unless we believe we can prove them."

Ms. Harris, 19, was found dead October 13, 1994 in the back yard of Mr. Mills' mother, Millie Mills. A partially empty bottle of rum was in her left hand and dirt covered her clothing.

Early on, investigators said Ms. Harris died of alcohol poisoning or choked on her own vomit, something her family vehemently denied.

That was not the Kristina her family knew, Mrs. Brannum said.

She didn't drink unless it was something sweet with a paper umbrella, her mother said. After breaking up with Mr. Mills for several months, the two had only recently gotten back together.

"She was such a lady all her life. And then she was a piece of trash in somebody's back yard" Mrs. Brannum said.

Eventually, the Brannums contacted Parents Of Murdered Children, a Cincinnati-based national support group.

A volunteer pathologist examined the evidence as part of the group's Second Opinion Program. The pathologist told Harris' family and local law enforcement officials that something was wrong.

The body was exhumed and a second autopsy done. That autopsy found Ms. Harris' death was a homicide and that she died from suffocation.

Although a trial likely lies ahead, the indictment is a start, Mrs. Brannum said.

Ultimately, she wants Kristina's death explained. The death certificate has the cause of death as pending. That's not good enough, Mrs. Brannum said. "I want a death certificate that says the truth about how Kristy died...The one I have is wrong."

 


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