By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Three expert witnesses testifying for the defense casts doubt yesterday on the contention that former Army Ranger Gary Smith shot his roommate 18 months ago at their apartment in Gaithersburg, and one of the experts said he believed that the roommate shot himself.
"In this case, I don't doubt it's a suicide, period," Vincent Di Maio, an expert on gunshot wounds, said of the death of Michael McQueen.
Di Maio's testimony yesterday followed that of Herbert MacDonell, an expert on blood spatters who said blood on McQueen's right arm indicated that the arm had to have been raised when the shot was fired. The defense has said that McQueen's arm was raised because he was holding the gun to his head.
Di Maio and MacDonell have testified in high-profile murder trials: Di Maio in the case against record producer Phil Spector, and MacDonnell in the case against O.J. Simpson.
Smith, 25, is charged with first-degree murder in the September 2006 death of McQueen, 22. Smith and McQueen had served together as Rangers in Afghanistan; Smith also served in Iraq.
Prosecutors in Montgomery County contend that Smith shot McQueen in the head as McQueen sat in a living room chair after the two had been out drinking. The prosecution has offered no motive.
Smith gave detectives conflicting accounts of his whereabouts at the time of the shooting and eventually admitted that he threw the gun into nearby Lake Needwood.
William Vosburgh, a forensic expert witness for the prosecution, testified last week that bloodstains on the apartment's carpet suggested that someone was next to McQueen when the shot was fired, and that blood on Smith's shoe pointed to him as that person.
Vosburgh told the jury that voids in the bloodstains on the carpet suggested that portions of the carpet were not exposed when the shot was fired. Vosburgh said one of the empty spaces appeared to have been created by a hand. He noted that blood mist fell between fingers and left a corresponding mark on the carpet. He said the other empty spaces corresponded to the shape of a sneaker.
"I believe that object is the right shoe of the suspect in this case," Vosburgh said.
A third defense expert, Barton Epstein, said there was a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that a V-shaped void was not caused by Smith's shoe.
The testimony, much of it graphic, has been difficult for McQueen's family members, who have attended the proceedings in Circuit Court in Rockville since the trial began March 17. This week, after a series of bloody photographs of McQueen were projected on a screen, McQueen's aunt, Bargetta Evans, wiped her eyes. McQueen's younger brother, Otto, 21, led her out of the courtroom.
Di Maio gave a number of reasons why he thinks McQueen shot himself. Suicide statistic show that 97.9 percent of self-inflicted gunshot wounds are contact wounds, he said.
Di Maio also noted that McQueen was legally intoxicated when he died and that there were contentions that McQueen was depressed. "People do things that they might not do when they're sober -- shoot themselves being one of the things," Di Maio testified.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor John Maloney, Di Maio said his information about McQueen's alleged depression came from a psychiatrist hired by Smith's defense attorney.
"Did you talk to Michael McQueen's father?" Maloney said, turning to the father, who sat in the first row of the courtroom. Di Maio had not. Maloney asked the same question about McQueen's mother, brother, grandmother and aunt. Di Maio had not interviewed them, either.
Maloney also challenged Di Maio's claim that gunshot residue on McQueen's hand indicated that he was the gunman. Maloney said residue also was found on Smith's hand.