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Victim identified her killer, medical witnesses report in BV trial

Monday, January 29, 2007

State fire expert testifies

"No, I want to die," were the words paramedic James Vinsand testified he heard the day that he rushed a badly-burned Holly Michael, 22, to Trinity Regional Medical Center.

Vinsand was trying to place an oxygen mask on Michael's face and she was resisting, he recalled in court Thursday in Storm Lake, as the murder trial of Sessions Harper continued.

Vinsand said Michael's skin was still burning as she was on her way to the hospital and he used solution to try to wash them out.

"She said, 'Thank you, that feels good'." Vinsand told the jury.

On January 8, 2006, Holly Michael was found in the basement of her mother's home. She had been bound, covered in a comforter which was soaked with paint thinner and gasoline and set on fire.

Personnel at the medical center testified that they had heard Michael say that Harper had attacked her.

Dr. Dan Cole was in the Trauma Center at Trinity on the day Michael came in.

"She told me that Sessions Harper raped her, tied her up and set her house on fire," Cole said.

The defense objected, claiming the testimony recounting Michael's words before her death was hearsay and violated Harper's right to confront a witness against him. Judge Allen Goode had previously ruled in a pretrial on November 27 that the medical personnel's statements would be allowed.

During Cole's testimony, photos of Michael's body was shown in court. Cole was asked to discuss the images, including wire and tape shown still around Michael's wrist.

Michael's family stayed throughout the testimony and the images.

Dr. Elizabeth Day, Dr. Dan Warlick and Alexa Straight, a X-ray technician, also stated to the jury that they had heard Michael say Harper's name.

Day did not recall Cole speaking with her, but later stated that she was not present the the whole time.

"I had to step away because I had to throw up," Day said.

All the medical personal described a scene of chaos in the trauma room, and some witnesses had trouble recalling where they were exactly at all times when pressed by the defense.

Anita Michael, Holly Michael's mother, also testified Thursday. She had been on vacation in Texas with her aunt and a retirement group at the time of the incident. As soon as she learned and confirmed that there had been a fire at the home, she returned to Iowa.

"I made arrangements as soon as I could and flew into Des Moines and went to Iowa City," she said.

"Why did you go to Iowa City?," Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown asked.

"Holly had already been transported there," her mother said.

Anita Michael was able to see her daughter right away, but she was not able to talk with her, as a tube was running into her mouth.

"She kept on mouthing Harper and I told her 'You already told and you are safe'," Michael told the jury Thursday.

Defense attorney Mike Williams asked Michael if she had asked her daughter to explain what she meant. The elder Michael said she had not and that she heard from someone else what had happened.

Michael was also asked to identify some items found in her home. One item was a red metal gas can found in the basement. Anita Michael said no such gas can had been at the home.

"I would never keep gas around the house with my 2-year-old grandson," she said.

Mike Keefe of the Iowa State Fire Marshall's office was called to the house in Fort Dodge to investigate. He said that fires where started separately in both Holly and Anita Michael's rooms.

"There's no means for the fire to travel," Keefe said on the stand.

Keefe also discovered a pair of jeans in an undamaged area of the house, with Holly Michael's current driver's license and a condom.

Keefe also identified the remains of the charred comforter that was found with Michael. He said they had a "relatively strong" smell of gasoline and paint thinner.

Court was not held on Friday, which happened to be the one year anniversary of Michael's death, because defender Greg Jones was unavailable due to private commitments. Court will reconvene Monday at 9 a.m.

Defense attorneys have said that Harper and Michael were friends, and that there was no animosity between them. If convicted of first-degree murder, Harper would face a lifetime in prison with no parole.



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