(April 26, 2017)
UTICA - The first witnesses in the murder trial of Kaitlyn Conley took the stand Wednesday in Oneida County Court.
Twenty-four-year-old Conley of Sauquoit is accused of using the gout medicine Colchicine to poison her chiropractor boss, Dr. Mary Yoder, to death in 2015.
Opening arguments in the trial took place Tuesday, with the prosecution detailing how Conley – who was trusted and loved by the Yoder family – allegedly poisoned Yoder, with electronic evidence such as the email account used to buy the medicine linking back to Conley. The defense claimed that Yoder’s husband, William Yoder, was the one to blame for his wife’s death, emphasizing that Conley had no motive to kill her boss.
The first prosecution witness called to the stand Wednesday was Dr. Lingappa Amernath, who worked at St. Luke’s Hospital until Jan. 2016. He treated Mary Yoder in the St. Luke’s emergency room when she fell ill on July 21-22, 2015.
Lingappa said Yoder had complaints of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Various tests were administered on Yoder, which left doctors stumped on what the cause of her symptoms could be. Yoder then left the emergency room and was admitted to the hospital, and Lingappa was no longer overseeing her care.
The second witnessed called to the stand was Dr. Maria Gesvaldo, a pulmonary critical care physician who was asked to consult on Yoder’s case in the middle of the night of July 21 into July 22 as Yoder had deteriorated.
Early in the morning on July 22, Yoder suffered a heart attack and needed to be resuscitated, Gesvaldo said. Doctors were unable to reach William Yoder to give consent for anti-clotting medicine, so two doctors signed off on it.
Gesvaldo said several specialists consulted one another trying to come up with a diagnosis of what was causing Yoder’s illness. She said there was then a dramatic decompensation in Yoder’s cardiac status, and she “coded” – meaning her vital signs dropped dramatically – six or seven times, requiring doctors to resuscitate her several times for up to 30 minutes. When Yoder coded for the last time, her husband and daughter told doctors to let her be.
The third witness called to the stand was Melissa Muckey, the regional director of LabCorp, which tests samples for hospitals. Muckey said that LabCorp received a subpoena from the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office for Mary Yoder’s original blood sample.
Dr. Kenneth Clark, formerly of the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office, was the fourth witness to take the stand Wednesday. He performed the autopsy on Yoder at 9:30 a.m. July 23.
Clark said that typically the medical examiner’s office asks the family for permission to do an autopsy. If the family refuses and the medical examiner’s office believes a crime was committed, they can go to court. However, Yoder’s autopsy was not due to a criminal investigation, Clark said.
Clark testified that during the external exam, other than the marks left on Yoder due to medical intervention, she seemed healthy and nothing captured his attention.
The internal exam, however, was another story. One thing that captured Clark’s attention was the color of Yoder’s intestinal track – in the approximately 1,000 autopsies that he’s performed, he said he has never seen that coloring.
Clark said there was also evidence of apoptosis, or “cell suicide,” which occurs when cells know they are injured and take steps to kill themselves. Clark said he had never seen it before, and he consulted with a toxicologist, who recommended Clark test for something specific.
Clark then tested Yoder’s blood for Colchicine, a medicine used to treat gout – which Yoder did not have – and the results were positive. Another sample was sent out to test for Colchicine and that, too, came back with a positive result. He said Colchicine toxicity was the cause of Yoder's death.
It wasn't until October 2015 that Clark was contacted by the Oneida County investigator regarding the case, and they met in November 2015. This came after the Sheriff's Office received a letter from someone claiming that Adam Yoder, Mary Yoder's son, had poisoned his mother with Colchicine, and whomever wrote the letter was familiar with Yoder's illness and treatment.
The final witness of the day was Liana Hedge, Mary Yoder's eldest daughter, who is a physician. She said her brother Adam was with her family in South Hampton from July 15-21, 2015. She tearfully recounted the day she learned that her mother's condition was quickly deteriorating, and she headed upstate to see her in the hospital shortly before she died.
Hedge testified that Conley was the only person employed at the family's chiropractic office at the time her mother died. She also her parents were fond of Conley even when she and Adam Yoder had broken up.
While the defense blamed Mary Yoder's husband, William Yoder, for his wife's death, their daughter testified that she and her father cried for several hours when Mary Yoder died, something Hedge said she's not sure she's even seen him do before. William Yoder then sought solace in Kathy, Mary Yoder's sister, who he is now in a relationship with.
Hedge said that her mom would have been happy that her father had someone to help him through the grief.
Court will resume with more witness testimony at 10 a.m. Thursday in Oneida County Court. The trial is expected to last three weeks with approximately 60 witnesses.
To follow along as NEWSChannel 2's Joleen Ferris tweets live from Oneida County Court during the trial, follow @joleenferris on Twitter.
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