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Medical Examiner says woman's throat was cut to the spine; Okeechobee man accused of killing woman in her home

OKEECHOBEE—Dr. Linda Rush-O'Neil, from the District 19 Medical Examiner's Office, said Roberta ‘Bobbie' Christensen died as a result of a "gaping wound" to her throat that was so deep the vertebrae in her spine were actually injured.

Dr. Rush-O'Neil, who performed the autopsy on Mrs. Christensen, told the jury during the third day of testimony that despite the many other wounds to the woman's body it was the wound to her throat that caused her death.

Dale Glenn Middleton, 39, is accused of attacking Mrs. Christensen in the kitchen of her home then dragging her to her bedroom where he allegedly killed the 49-year-old server at the Golden Corral Restaurant. Middleton is also charged with stealing her 42-inch LG flat screen television then selling it for $200.

Although the courtroom was still and everyone was concentrating on Dr. Rush-O'Neil's testimony, soft groans of disbelief could be heard when an autopsy photo taken from the right side of Mrs. Christensen's body graphically depicted the depth of the wound to her throat.

With Dr. Rush-O'Neil standing in the courtroom and describing the victim's wounds to the 12-member jury, Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl asked her how many times the woman was cut across the throat. The doctor said she couldn't tell.

Although, she added, she could say there were at least three passes of a sharp instrument across her throat.
When the prosecutor asked her about the cutting motion, Dr. Rush-O'Neil testified that a "sawing-type motion would be consistent" with the neck wound.

The assistant medical examiner went on to testify that because Mrs. Christensen's blood loss was so major, she would have been rendered unconscious in 10 to 20 seconds. Death, she continued, would have come in minutes.

Mr. Bakkedahl then asked her if, in her opinion, Mrs. Christensen was unconscious before her throat was cut.
"There is nothing to lead me to believe that she was rendered unconscious prior to the gaping wound to her throat," replied Dr. Rush-O'Neil.

Among the other wounds suffered by Mrs. Christensen were stab wounds to both sides of her neck, her upper chest, behind her right ear and to her lower back. There were also several defensive wounds to her hands and arms.

She also had bruising to her forehead and to the right side of her face.

The bruising on her right cheek was apparently caused by someone standing or "stomping" on her face.

Mr. Bakkedahl asked the doctor if the bruising on the woman's forehead, just over her right eye, could have been caused by someone standing behind her and putting their arm around her head to hold her. The doctor replied that action would be consistent with the injury.

During the Aug. 3 morning session, the jury also heard from a DNA expert from the District 19 Crime Lab in Fort Pierce, as well as an expert on shoe prints.

Forensic biologist Leslie Perrone told the jury she was able to pinpoint the source of DNA taken from a blood drop on a Wolverine boot reportedly owned by Middleton. That DNA, she told Mr. Bakkedahl, was solely Mrs. Christensen's-excluding an identical twin.

Ms. Perrone told the prosecutor there are approximately 7 billion people on earth, but Mrs. Christensen's DNA is one out of 1 quadrillion and 875 trillion.

When cross examined by defense attorney Thomas Garland, Ms. Perrone said she could not tell how that blood got on the boot or who left it there. She also said she tested scrapings from underneath Mrs. Christensen's fingernails but found nothing.

During his cross examination of Garrett Wade Fowler on Thursday, Middleton's roommate, Mr. Garland got Fowler to admit that he had worn Middleton's boots to work. At times, Fowler admitted, he even wore Middleton's clothes.

Another expert from the crime lab, Mark Chapman, told the jury Friday morning how he matched a bloody shoe print left on a paycheck stub in Mrs. Christensen's bedroom to one of Middleton's boots.

With the sole of the left boot displayed on a large screen in the middle of the courtroom, Mr. Chapman pointed to two small areas near the outer edge of the sole where parts of the tread was missing. He then made an overlay of that sole and placed it over the shoeprint left on the check stub.

When Mr. Bakkedahl put that image up on the screen the jury could easily see the two "void areas" on the sole of the Wolverine boot.

That same print, testified Mr. Garland, was consistent with the shoeprint left on the right cheek of Mrs. Christensen.

Testimony will continue Monday, Aug. 6.