Doctor says 2009 strangulation victim likely had brain damage

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) - The doctor who examined a strangulation victim who died in 2009 took the stand in the retrial of a man accused of hurting her and leaving her for dead.

The state called Dr. David Dolinak as its first witness Wednesday morning. Dolinak performed the autopsy on 27-year-old Jessika Kalaher and ultimately ruled her cause of death as a result of strangulation assault.

Crispin Harmel faces charges of capital murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery.

Dolinak testified that he was originally going to rule her cause of death as simply strangulation.

However, once he learned Kalaher was moving around hours after the attack, he waited and gathered more information. On Tuesday, a witness reported seeing Kalaher in her car the day after the attack acting strangely.

Dolinak said he believes Kalaher suffered brain damage as a result of low-blood flow that could’ve happened during the strangulation.

He also said she could’ve suffered mental shock from an assault, as well as brain damage from heat stroke. Dolinak did not see any dead brain cells during Kalaher’s autopsy, but he says it takes anywhere from 12-18 hours of survival after an event, to see those cells start to change.

Dolinak also testified he saw bruises on her arms indicative of defensive wounds, as well as a scrape across her neck, possibly from being tied with something. 

An expanded toxicology test of Kalaher came back negative for drugs, alcohol and medication, according to Dolinak.

Sgt. Larry Bond with the Cedar Park Police Department took the stand again Wednesday morning. After the department put images of Harmel and his truck out to the media, they received a call from someone who recognized Harmel.

When Bond interviewed Crispin Harmel five days after Kalaher was murdered, Bond testified he had changed the appearance of his truck. It looked different than five days earlier when it was caught on Walmart surveillance video.

“The large silver chrome piece across the tailgate was no longer there... and the silver color of the actual metal rim had been painted black," explains Bond.

The state has begun playing a 3-hour audio interview with Harmel.

Harmel told Sgt. Bond he met Kalaher online and they agreed to meet up at Walmart for sex.

He told detectives they agreed over instant messenger to meet between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m. on Sept. 7, 2009.

However, surveillance video shows Harmel pulling into Walmart after 1:40 a.m. He can also be heard telling detectives he was looking for her car in the parking lot and he didn't see it so he went into Walmart to use the bathroom.

However, surveillance video shows Harmel driving past Kalaher's car, and parking in the far north side of the parking lot, father from the entrance. 

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