Okerman hearing highlights defense request for complete autopsy file

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer


The state of Minnesota listened to arguments regarding the case against Warren John Okerman, Friday. Okerman, 44, of Little Falls, is charged with third-degree murder in the June 1, 2012 death of Leslie Ellyn Peterson.

Defense attorney Scott Wonderlich submitted a probable cause motion, maintaining that the state did not have evidence to support its claim that Peterson died of methamphetamine toxicity.

Wonderlich had requested a complete autopsy report, which he said has not yet been delivered.

Assistant County Attorney Todd Kosovich, prosecutor, spoke with Ramsey County Medical Examiner Dr. Kelly Mills, who told him the file was complete.

Wonderlich pointed out to the court that microscopic slides, something generally found in an autopsy file, were not there. Also, Peterson’s medical records and court records were not in the file.

“I asked for the complete copy, but the report from the coroner shows that the state’s complaint is based on something less than a full autopsy,” said Wonderlich.

One of the documents in the report is labelled a “final autopsy protocol,” which is a summary.

Wonderlich used statements from a letter written by Dr. John Plunkett, a forensic pathologist.

“The level of methamphetamine in Miss Peterson’s body was not even toxic, let alone lethal,” he said. “It was a trace amount.”

He also pointed out that Peterson had many conditions contributing to her death.

“According to the summary, she was obese, diabetic and had a 90 percent blockage to her first diagonal artery, 90 percent blockage to her right coronary artery, 80 percent blockage to her circumflex artery and 75 percent blockage to her left anterior descending artery, in addition to other things,” he said.

Peterson’s heart was also markedly enlarged with dilation of all four chambers, he said.

“The report does not explain how a trace amount of meth in her system would cause death,” said Wonderlich. “She would not even test positive for meth at that level.”

“That report is an autopsy,” said Kosovich. “Dr. Mills concluded that the cause of death was the toxicity of meth in her at that time. The other conditions made her a sick woman but they did not make her a dead one. It was the meth that pushed her over the edge. It’s a legitimate theory to be proved or contested by experts at trial.”

“The final protocol is just a summary,” Wonderlich maintained. “It’s like having the police submit a blank report and being told that they’ll explain at trial — you’ll find out then. The report doesn’t even state a cause of death. Did the meth cause a heart attack? Did she have a stroke? We don’t know.”

Judge Conrad Freeberg directed a question to Kosovich, “If that’s a summary, then where is the background? It ought to be here; that’s why we’re here today.”

Freeberg pointed out that there have already been extensions in the case, and he would not extend again.

He gave the defense until Aug. 16 to submit a written memorandum and Aug. 23 for the state.