LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Lois Goodman was in court six years ago, she stood accused of murder for allegedly bludgeoning her elderly husband with a coffee mug. On Wednesday, she was the accuser, blaming a medical examiner of falsifying an autopsy report that led to her arrest, tarnished her reputation and left her in financial trouble.
Goodman, a tennis umpire who was on her way to officiate a U.S. Open tennis match in New York in 2012 when police handcuffed her in front of news cameras, wants at least $100,000 for legal expenses and the ordeal she suffered for months before prosecutors dropped the charges.
Attorney Todd Thibodo told jurors in federal court that Deputy Medical Examiner Yulai Wang (You-lie Wong) in the Los Angeles coroner’s office provided no justification when he determined Alan Goodman’s death was a homicide not an accident. Wang had omitted important elements about the death and ignored the office’s rules about including evidence of other possible causes of death in his report, he said.
“Mr. Goodman’s death was an accident,” Thibodo said in his opening statement. “The autopsy report left out all the facts and circumstances it was an accident.”
A lawyer for Wang, however, said the pathologist had impeccable credentials and did not back down from the conclusion that Goodman was killed.
“Mr. Goodman’s death was bloody and was violent,” attorney Rickey Ivie said.
Lois Goodman told investigators she returned home from umpiring a tennis match and getting a manicure on April 17, 2012, to find a trail of blood leading from a landing on the stairs, where a coffee mug was shattered, to her bedroom. Her husband was face-up covered in blood on his bed and his body was cold.
The pillows and his T-shirt were bathed in blood, and paramedics determined he had been dead a couple of hours.
While a criminal case never went to trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, the civil trial is bound to shed light on what made police and prosecutors suspect his wife of a half century of foul play.
Thibodo said paramedics and police, including a veteran detective, concluded Goodman died from an accidental fall down the stairs after they investigated the scene, spoke with Lois Goodman and interviewed neighbors. The coroner’s office and homicide detectives declined to send investigators to the scene.
The case didn’t take a more ominous turn for four days when a coroner’s investigator was sent to a mortuary for what was expected to be a routine exam before signing the death certificate.
Investigator Mario Sainz said he’d never seen anything like it, Ivie said. There were 17 cuts on Goodman’s head, but no broken bones or injuries typically found when elderly people fall.
Wang and another pathologist who conducted the autopsy didn’t think the injuries were caused by a fall, but they deferred reaching a conclusion pending more investigation.
Homicide detectives believed it was a murder because of the number of cuts, Ivie said. Cuts were found on different sides of the head, including two slices that crossed the forehead and couldn’t have been made at the same time. Goodman’s right ear was almost severed.
Three months later, Wang conferred with 32 colleagues and concluded the death was a homicide caused by multiple sharp force wounds.
“There’s not one falsehood, one misstatement in that autopsy report,” Ivie said, adding that Wang never had anything to do with determining who killed Goodman.
Lois Goodman was arrested about a two weeks later as she was about to board a bus for the tennis venue in New York.
The charges were dropped in December 2012 after two other experts retained by prosecutors reviewed the autopsy report and concluded the death was an accident.
Dr. Frank Sheridan, San Bernardino County chief medical examiner, found parts of Wang’s autopsy report extremely “below standard,” according to court records.
“He couldn’t understand how anyone could have the level of certainty he had to call it a homicide,” Thibodo said.
There were no blood spatters that would have been consistent with a beating, none of Lois Goodman’s DNA was on the mug and none of her husband’s blood was found on her clothes.
Goodman, 76, originally sued Los Angeles police detectives who investigated the case, along with the coroner’s office and Wang. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the case against Wang because police relied on the conclusion of the coroner.
Goodman has since lost work at prestigious events like the U.S. Open and had to sell precious items and take in a tenant as a roommate to make ends meet, Thibodo said.
“She’ll never be able to retire,” he said.
By BRIAN MELLEY
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