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Nissensohn trial: Ex-wife changed story, defense says

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From page A1 | October 11, 2013 |

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Joseph Michael Nissensohn

The Joseph Michael Nissensohn triple murder trial continued Tuesday by explaining how a victim from a previous case died and showing how testimony from an ex-wife changed over time.

After a short closed session, the trial resumed with defense attorney Hayes Gable III calling Dr. Paul Herrmann. Herrmann, a forensic pathologist, studied Dr. John Howard’s autopsy reports of Sally Jo Tsaggaris. Nissensohn served 15 years for the second-degree murder of Tsaggaris.

Herrmann noted he was “impressed” with the report, saying Howard “did a good job.” He noted that Howard has also examined the scene where Tsaggaris’ body was found, extracting evidence including fibers and hairs from the body. Taking an internal temperature led Howard to believe the woman had been dead two days or more, but Herrmann believed it was three days or more.

Due to the lack of any significant amount of blood around the body, both men believed it unlikely she was killed at the site.

Herrmann told the jury, drawing a picture on a piece of butcher paper, that Tsaggaris died from two stab wounds to the chest, on either side of the breast bone. She was first stabbed on her left side. It was 1 ¼ inches deep, 3 ½ inches wide with only the top end sharp, consistent with a single-edged knife. It broke through the chest wall, entered the right ventricle of the heart and came out of the left ventricle, behind the right. The wound was from right to left, tilted upward. The second was 1 ¾ inches long, 2 ½ inches deep and went down into the liver, coming out the other side. It was also right to left. Though smaller, it could still be consistent with the knife used for the first wound.

The first stab wound could have killed Tsaggaris instantly, Herrmann said, “but not in this case.” She likely died from blood loss and internal bleeding, “within a matter of minutes,” possibly only a single minute.

The second wound was also fatal, with about a unit of blood found in her abdomen. He noted it was hard to say how long she would have lived with just that wound, but it could have been survivable if she immediately sought medical help.

The toxicology of Tsaggaris revealed she had methamphetamine and amphetamine, a breakdown product of meth, in her system. The amount in her would have had some effect on her, acting as a stimulant. There was no cocaine or heroin in her, which would have been used in a “speedball” with meth.

Under questioning from prosecutor Dale Gomes, Herrmann noted that Tsaggaris’ hands were partially mummified, so if she had shot up heroin under her fingernails or between fingers, it would be much harder to find.

The focus of the day then shifted to Cheryl Rose, an ex-wife of Nissensohn. The defense posited earlier in the trial that it was Rose, not Nissensohn, who committed at least one of the murders Nissensohn was charged with.

Gable called Brian Jarvis of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to the stand. Jarvis, now retired, was part of interviews with Rose, which were played via audio and shown on video. Though the interviews from 1990 were nearly unintelligible, the jury was provided a transcript, and Jarvis was questioned after each segment.

Gable asked questions concerning answers Rose had given, showing she changed answers over time. Between the 1990 interviews and a 2007 interview, she changed her story of the last time she saw Kathy Graves, a South Lake Tahoe teenager Nissensohn is accused of killing. First, she said she saw the girl leaving to hitchhike to find a job; then, she last saw the girl as Nissensohn led her into the hills of the forest, after they had stopped their van. Nissensohn allegedly wanted sex, and when denied by the girl, killed her.

She also changed her story of what Nissensohn had carried into the woods. Originally, she said it was a quilt. Then, she changed her story to a bag of sex toys that also had a kitchen knife — what she said Nissensohn used to kill Graves and Tsaggaris.

Gomes asked Jarvis if Rose, who died prior to the trial, had been candid in the 1990 interviews. “I felt she was not telling me everything,” he replied. More details came out over the weeks and in 2007.

Rose “told a number of different stories at different times,” Gable reiterated. He said she built on the story, including more details, which Jarvis agreed with. Jarvis noted that Rose was not totally honest and had lied to him. But, he told Gomes, she expressed fear of being put in jail and being held accountable.

The final witness was Detective Marty Opseth. He noted that Rose told him in 2005 that she and Nissensohn left her mother’s home after her mother found him playing with knives.

The trial concluded for the day, to be continued on Oct. 11.

Nissensohn is accused of killing Tammy Jarschke and Tanya Jones in Seaside, near Monterey, in 1981, and Kathy Graves in South Lake Tahoe in 1989. He has already served 15 years after being convicted on the second-degree murder of Tsaggaris in 1991. If found guilty, Nissensohn would be classified a serial killer and could face the death penalty.

Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or cmayer@mtdemocrat.net. Follow @CMayerMtDemo.

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