By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
Breathing life into dead bones, an expert attempts to explain what killed an Ord woman 24 years ago. But without DNA, can a jury link the crime to John Oldson?
It took three years to find Cathy Beard's remains. By that time, they had decomposed, making an autopsy very difficult.
Two decades later, a nationally-known expert gives a second opinion. Dr. Steven Symes of Mercyhurst College is an expert, in demand for cases like this.
He concludes that Beard suffered several injuries, including at least two head injuries, a massive impact to the chest and even stab wounds to her lower back.
There were also wounds to a bone in her hand, which may be a defensive wound showing that Beard was trying to protect herself.
Symes is a forensic anthropologist. While pathologists work with tissue to determine what killed someone, forensic anthropologists study bones.
Symes told the court, "a bone is a moment frozen in time."
Beard suffered what Symes called a massive force injury to the back of her head, resulting in three fractures.
Around her face, her skull is fractured from a line extending from her right eye through her nose.
There were also stab wounds to the lumbar area of the lower back, and a possible knife wound in the groin area.
There were several fractured ribs. Defense attorney James Mowbray questioned if those could be the result of being struck with a car.
But when taken in total, Symes said the injuries are clearly homicide, pointing to the stab wounds as something that would not be found in a car accident.
Valley County Sheriff Casey Hurlburt took the stand. He explained how he re-opened the case in 2010 and about a year later arrested John Oldson.
Hurlburt also mapped the route Oldson may have taken from the bar where Beard was last seen to the rural area where she was found. The two sites are separated by six miles, which Hurlburt said can be traveled in nine minutes with normal driving conditions.
Hurlburt was also involved in exhuming Beard's body in late 2011 to prepare it for Dr. Symes to study. The sheriff said water had leaked into the casket, which was a concern. However, Symes said he was still able to study the bones.
Oldson entered the Howard County Courthouse through the back door, wearing a gray shirt and black pants and a shackle around his waist.
During the trial he takes notes, with a pack of tissues and two tins of Altoids between him and his attorneys.
The case takes the weekend off before resuming Monday.
Judge Karin Noakes told jurors to report Monday afternoon, telling them to enjoy the Super Bowl.