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Pathologist points to suffocation, not strangulation, as cause of death for Lizzi Marriott

Union Leader Correspondent

June 23. 2014 10:09PM
Lisa Greenwaldt, an investigator with the N.H. Public Defenders Office, testifies during the trial of Seth Mazzaglia at Strafford County Superior Court in Dover on Monday. (AP Photo/Portsmouth Herald, Rich Beauchesne, Pool)

DOVER — Forensic pathologist Dr. Ira Kanfer testified Monday that he believed smothering, not strangulation, was the “most likely” scenario in the October 2012 death of UNH student Elizabeth “Lizzi” Marriott.

Kanfer, an associate medical examiner with Connecticut’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said he’s conducted more than 4,000 autopsies in his 29 years in the field. He was the second witness for the defense in the ongoing trial of Dover resident Seth Mazzaglia, 31, who faces first- and second-degree murder charges in the death of Marriott, a 19-year-old from Westborough, Mass.

Prosecutors allege that Mazzaglia strangled Marriott to death with a white cotton rope on Oct. 9, 2012, after she rebuffed his sexual advances following a game of strip poker in the Dover apartment Mazzaglia shared with his former girlfriend, Kathryn “Kat” McDonough, 20.

Defense attorneys have accused McDonough of killing Marriott that night during rough sex that led to suffocation and a seizure.

“What Kat McDonough describes in her grand jury testimony is a homicidal ligature strangulation,” Kafner said, referring to strangulation that involves a tying or binding material, as opposed to manual strangulation by the hands. “I believe she states it takes place over a period of 10 to 15 minutes, with the defendant having a rope ... and pulling hard for 10 or 15 minutes.”

Kanfer said that murders of this type are “extremely rare.”

“In the 29 years I’ve been doing this, I have seen one homicidal ligature strangulation,” he said. “One.”

McDonough has testified that after Mazzaglia strangled Marriott, she helped Mazzaglia pack Marriott’s body into a suitcase and drive Marriott’s car to Peirce Island in Portsmouth, where McDonough said they pushed Marriott’s body into the water.

Marriott’s body has never been found.

The defense’s first witness Monday in Strafford County Superior Court was Lisa Greenwaldt, a former investigator for the N.H. Public Defender’s office, where she is now a case coordinator. She testified Monday about her interviews with McDonough on Oct. 15 and 17, 2012, following Mazzaglia’s arrest Oct. 13.

Greenwaldt spoke about how in a videotaped interview Oct. 17, McDonough graphically described rough sexual contact — standing up at one point to demonstrate a straddling position — between her, Mazzaglia and Marriott on the night of Oct. 9. McDonough said at the time that the contact led to Marriott suffocating and having a seizure.

Kafner said Monday that he had reviewed McDonough’s statements and circumstances of the case.

“In my opinion, the scenario most likely would be the one that Kat McDonough told the attorneys in their office — that it was basically a smothering event during sex, where the victim’s nose and mouth are occluded,” Kanfer said on the stand.Earlier Monday, prosecutor Peter Hinckley repeatedly asked Greenwaldt why she failed to record in audio or video her Oct. 15, 2012, interview with McDonough, and questioned Greenwaldt about disparities between her initial, handwritten notes and a typed report she made after that interview.

“I wish I had recorded our first interview, I really do,” Greenwaldt acknowledged.

McDonough is serving a 1½- to three-year prison term after pleading guilty last July to charges that included witness tampering and hindering the investigation, as part of a plea agreement. She has testified that she helped cover up the murder and rape of Marriott.

The trial resumes at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

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