Investigators take the stand in trial of man who assaulted Breckenridge police officer
The trial of Nathan Alexander Finnegan continued on Thursday at the Summit County Justice Center, featuring testimony from detectives on the case, a forensic nurse examiner and analysts with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Finnegan, 22, stands accused of first- and second-degree assault, along with other crimes, after an incident in July 2018 when he allegedly crashed his car while driving inebriated on Highlands Drive in Breckenridge and subsequently attacked Breckenridge police Officer Jennifer Kruse who responded to the call.
The first witness to take the stand during Thursday’s proceedings was Katherine Williams, a former detective with the Breckenridge Police Department who helped investigate the case.
Williams’ testimony largely revolved around the investigation of the gray van Finnegan was driving that morning, shifting the focus of the trial from the assault to the events that preceded it.
Williams walked the jury through her investigation of both the exterior and interior of the vehicle, along with the crime scene stretching about a quarter-mile from Highway 9 to Dyer Trail on Highlands Drive. Williams, while the jury looked on at crime scene photos, said that the van was parked in a small ditch on the side of the roadway and was damaged on several surfaces, including significant denting and a broken mirror on the passenger side and scraping along the driver’s side.
Williams said that she also found a damaged guardrail less than 100 feet from where the car was resting, presumably where Finnegan first lost control of the vehicle and slammed into it.
Additionally, Williams walked the jury through evidence placards set up around the crime scene, detailing a trail of blood and clothes (along with other miscellaneous items like garden sheers and an airplane liquor bottle) leading from the crash site to where Finnegan was first contacted by Kruse near the intersection with Highway 9.
Williams also detailed her findings from inside the van, testifying that she found blood consistent with Finnegan’s cut hand on the steering wheel and on the inside of the door.
She discovered drug paraphernalia in the form of a used marijuana pipe, a vaporizer pen and empty marijuana containers from dispensaries in Breckenridge. She additionally found receipts and insurance cards tying the car to Finnegan. No weapons were found on the scene.
Mary Skowron, a forensic nurse at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, took the stand after Williams’ testimony, offering her recollection of Kruse’s examination following the assault. Skowron, who was also endorsed as an expert witness in forensic nursing, said that Kruse was suffering from a lapse in memory regarding the assault when she arrived, before a “head-to-toe” examination.
Skowron went over Kruse’s injuries for the jury, noting a significant cut above her eye, swelling and bruising around her entire head and a minor concussion.
Skowron said that Kruse also underwent a CT scan, which revealed no bleeding in her brain and no broken bones in her face or skull. No life-saving procedures were necessary as a result of the assault.
Kruse underwent two examinations following the assault.
After the first examination, Skowron completed a serious bodily injury form, checking off that Kruse’s injuries met a “substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part of the body or organ” due to the potential brain injury and loss of consciousness. Kruse returned to the hospital two days after the assault when soreness and bruising appeared on her neck. Following the second examination, Skowron added “substantial risk for death” and a “substantial risk for serious and permanent disfigurement” to the report.
While the report is essentially a risk assessment and not a determination of actual injuries, the distinctions are important in the case because of the elements necessary to prove first-degree assault, including creating a “grave risk of death” and causing “serious bodily injury,” perhaps the biggest points of contention in the trial as the defense maintains the injuries weren’t at any point life-threatening.
Skowron said that she updated the report to reflect a risk of death due to the new evidence of potential strangulation along with Kruse’s loss of consciousness.
She also said that she couldn’t determine whether or not there was any strangulation, but that she felt there likely was based on her previous experiences in nursing and ruptures in small blood vessels on her head and eye.
She said that a blow to the head could have also caused the rupture in her eye.
“When we see loss of consciousness from strangulation it’s because of a loss of oxygen to the brain,” said Skowron. “It’s my opinion, if it was caused by strangulation, she was at a substantial risk of death.”
The next individuals to testify were analysts with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. First was April Hrenya-Wood, a forensic DNA analyst, who said that she was able to match Finnegan’s DNA to blood samples taken from Kruse’s gun holster, and was able to match DNA to Finnegan’s paternal line from blood on Kruse’s uniform.
Stephanie Olofson, a forensic toxicologist with CBI, told the jury that no alcohol was discovered in Finnegan’s blood samples taken less than two hours after the assault. Olofson said she did discover cocaine, marijuana and Lorazepam in his blood, but couldn’t make any determinations as to when they were taken or how much was ingested.
The bureau did not test for substances not typically included in their normal drug screen, including LSD, mescaline, psilocybin and several others.
Breckenridge detective Justin Polidori was the last to take the stand. In his brief testimony he spoke about examining and photographing injuries to Finnegan following the assault.
He said that Finnegan had a substantial cut on his left hand, cuts and bruising on his right hand and some small bruising on his arms.
Polidori said that he didn’t see any injuries to Finnegan’s head.
Following Polidori’s testimony, District Attorney Bruce Brown rested the prosecution’s case. The trial will resume on Friday at 10:30 a.m. with either Finnegan’s testimony, if he chooses to take the stand, or closing arguments.
District Attorney Bruce Brown and Stephanie Cava are prosecuting the case, while Kevin Jensen and Everett Pritchard are defending Finnegan. Chief Judge Mark Thompson is presiding over the proceedings.
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