Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
The autopsy of Lori Klausutis makes no reference to a time of death. That raises new questions about an investigation that started when the 28-year-old woman's body was found in the office of then U.S. Representative Joe Scarborough in summer 2001.
Accidental death was the official finding in the Klausutis case, with a cardiac arrhythmia causing her to fall and hit her head on a desk. But the recent discovery of human remains at a storage unit in Pensacola, Florida, casts doubt on that ruling. That's because the storage unit was rented by Dr. Michael Berkland, the man who conducted the Klausutis autopsy 11 years earlier.
Berkland now faces a felony charge of improper storage of hazardous waste, and the grisly nature of the discovery calls his competence--and perhaps his sanity--into question.
Was the Lori Klausutis autopsy conducted in a professional manner? Was foul play prematurely ruled out? Should the investigation be reopened, perhaps with renewed scrutiny for Scarborough and others who might have had access to his office at the time?
Meanwhile, events surrounding the Klausutis story are taking on characteristics that are disturbingly reminiscent of the Don Siegelman case. More on that in a moment.
Scarborough has become a prominent figure in cable television news, serving as co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe. He also has strong ties to our area, as a graduate of the University of Alabama and confidant of former GOP Governor Bob Riley and his son, Homewood attorney Rob Riley.
Many Morning Joe viewers probably have forgotten, or never knew, that the body of a female aide once was found in Scarborough's Congressional office. Investigators quickly saw that a blow to the head, delivered accidentally or intentionally, was involved in Lori Klausutis' death. So it's hard to figure why the autopsy makes no reference to time of death. (See full autopsy report at the end of this post; the document originally appeared at webofdeception.com)
Why is that a key omission? Consider this from an online document titled "Determining Time of Death (TOD)":
Why is it important to know the time of death?
•TOD can set the time of murder
•Eliminate or suggest suspects
•Confirm or disprove alibis
Why did Berkland not include this critical detail? It's not as if his report does not provide plenty of other details. He tells us that Klausutis was wearing a white thong on the day of her death. (Page 7.) He tells us that she had a "shaved genital region." (Page 8.) But no time of death?
The core of the autopsy report can be found in the comment section, pages 3-7. This probably is the central finding:
There is no doubt that the head injury is as a result of a fall, rather than a blow being delivered to the heading by a moving object. Lori has a classic "contrecoup" injury, or bruise to the brain, meaning that her brain was bruised on the opposite side from where the external force was applied. The left side of Lori's brain was bruised while the external abraded contusion (scratch and bruise) was in the right temple region. The contrecoup contusion results when a freely moving, mobile head strikes an unyielding, firm, fixed object in a fall, as in the floor, or in this case, the desk. This finding is in marked distinction from the "coup" contusion, or that injury which results from a moving object (example--a ball bat) that strikes a stationary head. In the coup injury, there is bruising of the brain on the same side as the external injury. There was no coup contusion in Lori Klausutis.
What would cause a seemingly healthy young woman, an avid runner, to collapse and lose consciousness, unable to break her fall? Berkland rules out some of the common causes of such an event--a pulmonary embolus, a brain hemorrhage, a ruptured aneurysm, drug issues. He concludes:
These facts leave only a cardiac arrhythmia as the reason to go unconscious and subsequently fall and strike the desk in an unprotected fashion. If Lori's heart was normal, it would be problematic to postulate a plausible reason for a cardiac arrhythmia in such a young person. However, her heart was not normal. The heart contained an abnormality (floppy mitral valve) that is known to result in cardiac ectopy and dangerous cardiac arrhythmias.
All of this sounds reasonable. But given recent events, can Michael Berkland's work be trusted? Why on earth was he keeping body parts in a storage unit? And did any of those parts once belong to Lori Klausutis?
While we're at it, let's consider the environment that has developed around the Klausutis story, some of which will sound familiar to those who have followed the Siegelman saga:
* A strange news blackout--Neither the Pensacola News Journal nor the Northwest Florida Daily News, the two major newspapers in the area, has tied Berkland and the human-remains story to the death of Lori Klausutis and her job as an aide to Joe Scarborough. How can it not at least be mentioned in coverage that Berkland is the same guy who essentially closed the books on the Klausuitis investigation. That kind of myopic mainstream news coverage has been present throughout the Siegelman case.
* A reporter disappears, then reappears--Reporter Thyrie Bland broke the human-remains story for the Pensacola newspaper and reported that Berkland had rented the storage unit. Then Bland vanished. Those who called the paper asking to speak to Bland were told he no longer worked there. He left in the midst of covering what might be one of the biggest stories of the year in the region? Apparently, the answer is yes. An online search reveals that Bland has resurfaced at al.com, the online arm of Alabama newspapers in Birmingham, Huntsville, and Mobile. Bland appears to be focusing on Baldwin County, the area where Siegelman votes disappeared in the middle of the night, giving the 2002 gubernatorial election to Republican Bob Riley. Isn't it curious that a reporter who could uncover information leading to Joe Scarborough, winds up working at the heavily pro-Riley al.com?
* An Air Force connection--The obituary for Lori Klausutis reveals that her husband was T. J. Klautsutis of Niceville, Florida. A brief Web search reveals that Dr. Timothy J. Klausutis is a prominent member of the U.S. Air Force. One site indicates he conducts studies on navigation and miniature weapons systems for the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL). What does this mean? We aren't sure, but it reminds us that the Air Force had a number of curious ties to the Siegelman case. The prosecution team set up a shop, not at the U.S. Attorney's Office, but at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. Mark Fuller, the trial judge, was a primary owner in Doss Aviation, a Colorado-based company that lived largely off Air Force contracts.
What will happen next in the Michael Berkland story? Our guess is that the northwest Florida press will continue to ignore the obvious ties to the Lori Klausutis case. Berkland probably will plead guilty to some type of reduced charge, and the criminal case will go away quietly. Scarborough will remain as the host of Morning Joe until he decides the time is ripe for a return to politics. By then, the world will likely have forgotten all about Lori Klausutis.
Meanwhile, northwest Florida and southeast Alabama continue to form perhaps the No. 1 "Corridor of Corruption" in the United States. The area is home to gun running, drug smuggling, shadowy military installations, slippery real-estate moguls, and a justice system that perhaps is best described as "evil." Powerful forces make a lot of money from the dysfunctional mess, and they don't want it to change.
They certainly do not want the death of Lori Klausutis to be revisited. And that means it probably won't be.